Back Story With Tom Carskadon


Carskadon, in the mid-1970s, conducting a class exercise designed to show students how small children perceive adults.

 

I am a Southerner by choice rather than birth. Over 44 years, Mississippi State University has been my first, last and only full-time job.

What was it like back in 1973? GTR was brand new but it was serviced only by Southern Airlines, flying elderly Martin 404 propeller planes that first took wing in 1951. I arrived in one of them.

Contrary to my Yankee stereotypes about Mississippi, I found an exceptionally friendly, modern, comprehensive university that was clearly poised for growth. I wanted to be part of it. I wanted to make a difference here.

I was relieved to learn that Starkville was named after the American general, not the English adjective. Starkville was pleasant, but much smaller then. There was only one franchised restaurant. It was 1974 before we got a McDonald’s, and when Wal-Mart opened, it literally stopped traffic.

I am a Southerner by choice rather than birth.

Food options on campus consisted mainly of the magnificent cafeteria, where most people ate their meals, one place in the Union, and the historic State Fountain Bakery. That was about it, but the food was good!

Beer was illegal in Oktibbeha County. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but platoons of students and faculty seeking beer and comradeship drove a rather perilous two-lane road out to “the Crossroads,” just past the county line. A place called Len-Lou’s lives in the memory of many.

Entertainment centered mainly on religious groups, Greek groups and SEC sports. Our star quarterback was a highly respected young man named Rockey Felker. Back then, most of the big football games were played in Jackson, and it was years before Scott Field had lights.

The campus was a ghost town on weekends. Nearly all the students went back to the very homes they had waited 18 years to leave. Maybe the reason was the residence halls: It was an open secret that during a major recent expansion, the person responsible prided himself on putting up the cheapest dorms in America—and we got exactly what we paid for. Decades later, righting that mistake would cost many millions.

I am often asked how students have changed over the last four decades. My answer is simple: They haven’t. Styles change, toys (think: smartphones) change, but students are the same wonderful people they have always been.

Mississippi State had been peacefully integrated just eight years earlier. But in Starkville, some doctors’ offices still had segregated waiting rooms—in 1973! My deceased wife, a gentle and compassionate soul, always sat in the “wrong” waiting room. Staff didn’t know if she was simply clueless or defying them. I’ll give you a hint: She wasn’t clueless.

I am often asked how students have changed over the last four decades. My answer is simple: They haven’t. Styles change, toys (think: smartphones) change, but students are the same wonderful people they have always been.

I feel blessed beyond measure to work here. The years have flown by. This much is sure: There has never, ever been a more exciting time to be at Mississippi State University. The “glory days,” the “best of times,” are now.

That is why I intend to remain here to teach the grandchildren of the students I taught 44 years ago, when my career began.

Hail State, and Forever Maroon and White.


Tom Carskadon is a professor of psychology and director of First-Year Experience programs at Mississippi State. In its inaugural year, he earned the rank of Grisham Master Teacher, considered the university’s highest recognition of teaching. He also won the Alumni Association’s Award for Outstanding Teaching. It’s estimated that over his 44 years at Mississippi State, “Dr. C” has taught more than 40,000 students. He is a graduate of Oberlin College and holds a doctorate in psychology from the University of Colorado.