Mississippi State marks milestones for three programs

Geosciences celebrates centennial

The Department of Geosciences is celebrating 100 years of changing lives at Mississippi State and beyond.

“We are in many ways the department that is most involved with answering the environmental and social questions facing society,” department head Bill Cooke said.

A major point of pride for the geosciences department stems from its nationally recognized broadcast meteorology program. It boasts an approximate 95 percent job placement rate and has graduates working as on-air meteorologists in 85 percent of all U.S. markets.

“We work hard to maintain connections with on-air markets that keep our students competitive and employ them after graduation,” Cooke said.

Kathy Sherman-Morris, an associate professor and director of distance learning, said the department also has been strengthening relationships with students through distance learning since 1987. A master’s program designed for K-12 teachers and professionals in education-related fields was added in 1998. In 2010, the department introduced a master’s in geosciences with a concentration in applied meteorology that has benefited individuals with meteorological, environmental and hazard-related careers worldwide.

Cooke said the department is working to build its distance-learning offerings. It is moving to a clinical faculty model that will provide excellence in distance education through the efforts of faculty with distance education as their primary focus.

“We have reached a lot of people and changed many lives through distance learning,” Sherman-Morris said. “Through our operational meteorology program, we have been able to provide weather forecasting training to many, including those serving in the military.”

Cooke added, “An MSU education can make a huge difference in how these individuals stationed across the globe conduct exercises and war efforts around the world.”

In 2015, the department was designated a Center of Academic Excellence in Geospatial Sciences by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Geological Survey. Cooke said, since then, the department has been working with the NGA to develop a pipeline for student employment in the intelligence community.

“Courses in geospatial intelligence are being developed to be incorporated into the curriculum,” Cooke explained. “The goal will be to equip graduate students with the problem-solving skills needed to integrate socio-political occurrences with geospatial technologies.”

Along with expanding its reach via distance learning, the geosciences department has connected with future students through the U.S. Army-sponsored LeaderSTATE program, which is designed to provide high-school students with leadership training and specialized education.

“Bringing these exceptional students to participate in this program at Mississippi State is important for our department because it provides an opportunity to showcase what our faculty and students are doing in physics, chemistry, engineering, UAV and other fields,” Cooke said.

In geology, the geosciences department provides outreach education to students and the local community through its Dunn-Seiler Museum.

Under the direction of Renee Clary, an associate professor, the museum provides outreach to many groups both on and off campus. Public outreach efforts include a museum-sponsored contest for repurposing Styrofoam, along with annual Fossil Extravaganza and Earth Day celebrations. On average, the museum provides guided tours to approximately 1,000 school children each year.

“We’re doing a lot of things well,” Cooke said when reflecting on the department’s accomplishments and goals. “I’m proud of where we are and where we’re going.”

Biological Engineering hits 50 in 50

When Mississippi State’s curriculum was introduced for biological engineering in 1967, it became the first of its kind in the nation. Now, 50 years later, it celebrates another important milestone.

“This is the first time in the history of engineering at Mississippi State University that a department has had more women than men in an undergraduate program,” explained Jonathan Pote, head of the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

He continued, “Mississippi State and North Carolina State University both started programs in biological engineering, but Mississippi State actually had students in the program first and therefore was the first to have its program ABET accredited.”

Pote said the biological engineering program has been continuously accredited since 1972. In addition to bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in the subject, the department also offers a bachelor’s in agricultural engineering technology and business, and graduate degrees in biomedical engineering and engineering technology. Starting this fall, it will add a bachelor’s in biomedical engineering to its program offerings.

Pote said he attributes the rise in female enrollment both to national trends and his department’s growth, which went from 240 undergraduates in 2009 to more than 400 last fall.

“We’ve grown fast,” Pote said. “There’s a long history of women in biology, and biological engineering is a natural entry point for the field.”

Pote said one of the department’s priorities moving forward is continuing to hire expert faculty who can contribute to the overall diversity of the department. Currently, the department employs six female faculty members, three of whom are African American.

“We’re hiring the best,” Pote said, adding that recent female faculty hires have included graduates of Mississippi State, Clemson, Rice, Harvard and Georgia Tech. “There’s a family orientation to our department. Our colleagues watch out for each other and serve as great role models for our students.”

African American Studies marks 10 years at MSU

Mississippi State’s African American Studies program is celebrating10 years at one of the Southeast’s most diverse institutions of higher learning.

“I am grateful for the support leaders of this great university have showed this young program,” said program director Stephen Middleton. “As I reflect on the first 10 years of African American studies at Mississippi State, I believe the program is a rising sun.”

Since its inception in 2007, the AAS program has promoted multiculturalism both through its academic efforts and diverse events and programs held on campus.

“Over the years, we have brought in speakers who have taught on a wide variety of issues and concerns relating to race, politics, African American culture and literature,” said Donald Shaffer, an associate professor of English and African American Studies.

“We have brought in scholars who are and are not African American because we want to show students that there are people other than people of color who are doing great work in the field of African American studies,” he added.

Shaffer said the AAS program also has created opportunities for students and faculty to approach the history and culture of African Americans in a way that very few people are doing.

“We are very proud that Mississippi State has one of the most diverse student bodies in the Southeastern Conference, right at 20 percent,” Shaffer said. “Part of our larger mission moving forward is to create a more diverse faculty, both in terms of race and gender.”

By Sasha Steinberg, Photos by Megan Bean