“Our focus will always be on our students and their success. The opportunities we are providing them to join hands with nationally acclaimed faculty guarantees that the work of Mississippi State will continue to make a contribution every day in making the world a better, safer and more sustainable place to live.” ~Judy Bonner

A year ago, the mountains called to newly retired Judy Bonner.

Universities with administrative vacancies tried to tempt her, but a pine-shaded cabin in the clean mountain air had a stronger pull. Then she heard from Mississippi State.

With the opportunity to be the chief academic officer at one of the region’s leading land-grant universities, Bonner quickly changed course from the mountains of North Carolina to the plains of Northeast Mississippi.

“President Keenum has developed and is implementing a strategic plan that has placed this university on a clear trajectory of progress,” Bonner said. “I thought if I can become a contributing member of that team, I would be proud to be a part of the Mississippi State family and the Bulldog Nation.”

Bonner, who holds a doctoral degree from Ohio State University, joined the Mississippi State ranks last July as provost and executive vice president to replace Jerry Gilbert, who is now president of Marshall University. She brings more than 35 years of administration experience in higher education, including three years as president of the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, where she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Despite having an extensive resume that recounts a career of numerous leadership positions, Bonner considers herself a faculty member, first. As provost, she holds true to those roots by providing leadership for the academic mission of Mississippi State.

“No good university will ever be great if its core mission isn’t student-centered,” Bonner explained. “Mississippi State is a great university because our outstanding faculty, loyal alumni and entire leadership team have long understood that basic fact.”

Bonner said part of what lured her from retirement is Mississippi State’s unlimited potential to succeed in today’s rapidly changing and extremely competitive higher-education environment.

“In the last five years there have been fewer students nationally pursuing college degrees,” Bonner said. “Financial support from states is inadequate and the cost of attending college is rising. In order to thrive, we must find ways to be agile in our decision making, look for ways to be more efficient and effective, and renew our sense of urgency.”

She continued, “I view my role as an administrator as facilitating the work of others. It’s not about ‘me.’ It’s about ‘we’ and how we can work together in order to move forward.”

Bonner explained that as a land-grant university with a mission of service, research and teaching, Mississippi State is in a strong position to touch the daily lives of those not only in Mississippi, but all 50 states and around the world. And with this reach, she sees valuable opportunities to continue to build on the academic success of the university.

“Our focus will always be on our students and their success,” Bonner said. “The opportunities we are providing them to join hands with nationally acclaimed faculty guarantees that the work of Mississippi State will continue to make a contribution every day in making the world a better, safer and more sustainable place to live.”

Bonner noted that the university’s enrollment is not only growing but growing with quality. She said that will continue to be a priority as Mississippi State recruits freshmen and transfer students, and increases graduate studies. By building the programs at MSU-Meridian, as well as distance education and partnerships with community colleges and international institutions, she said the university will serve those unable to attend classes on the main campus.

For Bonner, making Mississippi State’s nationally recognized academic programs accessible to a wide variety of students is the fulfillment of its role as a land-grant institution and its promise to produce graduates whose work will build a stronger economy and solve problems facing the world.

“I want our students to know that their success is what motivates us,” Bonner said. “I want our alumni to understand that while I didn’t graduate from Mississippi State, I well understand the pride they have in their alma mater. Their love for MSU is not only well placed, it’s justified and contagious.

“The spirit and loyalty of our graduates and friends have made Mississippi State a truly one-of-a-kind place.”


Generations of graduating Bulldogs have watched from their seats as a procession marched onto the stage to begin a ceremony they waited long, study-filled years to attend.

At the head of the line, one honored faculty member sets the pace, carrying the most iconic symbol of the university’s academic excellence.

Bearing three brass faces that proclaim “Service,” “Learning” and “Research,” Mississippi State University’s ceremonial mace serves as a reminder of the land-grant institution’s primary missions.

Carved by the late Francis Newton Matthews, who was an associate professor of industrial education, the mace is topped by a stylized flame representing the torch of knowledge. A tapered wooden staff serves as its base and symbolizes the people who support the institution.

The ceremonial mace is housed in the President’s Office until it is retrieved for use at Fall Convocation and twice-yearly commencement ceremonies. The macebearer for each ceremony is either that year’s recipient of the Grisham Master Teacher honor, the most prestigious faculty award at the university, or the Early Career Undergraduate Teaching Excellence Award.

By Susan Lassetter, Photos by Megan Bean