Deavenports continue to engineer opportunities at Mississippi State University

 

A great sense of vision and unwavering philanthropy enables alumnus Earnest W. “Earnie” Deavenport Jr. to remain connected with his alma mater. He began expressing his gratitude many years ago for all that Mississippi State has helped him achieve, and through his spirit of volunteerism, he helps position the institution for its next level of greatness.

Known internationally as a tireless leader in engineering and business, Deavenport continues to make his mark on his home state and its leading university, from which the Macon native earned a chemical engineering degree in 1960. It was his engineering education that provided the formative blocks for a 42-year career, culminating as longtime chairman and CEO of Eastman Chemical Co.

“Business and education provide a quality of life for people so that they not only can enjoy the fruits of life themselves, but also give of their time and money to help others,” said Deavenport, the 2015 MSU National Alumnus and holder of an honorary Doctor of Science. “Through the years, my wife Mary Ann and I have desired to return something to the institution that contributed to my professional success and help Mississippi, and we are pleased the university has used our gifts to truly make a positive difference on the campus and beyond.”

Because of their benevolent support, Mississippi State is saluting the Kiawah Island, South Carolina, couple. In October, the university officially dedicated Deavenport Hall, its newest student residence hall. As fall semester began, the state-of-the-art facility opened its doors to some 350 residents, a mix of freshmen and some upperclassmen, eager for an opportunity to begin or continue their studies on the Starkville campus.

The Deavenports are pleased their names are among individuals who have been honored by Mississippi State in this manner. “The residence hall benefits students firsthand as they live, learn and pursue their dreams on campus,” said Mary Ann Deavenport, a Bay Springs native and University of Southern Mississippi graduate who worked for Eastman Kodak. “We are proud Deavenport Hall will serve the students of Mississippi State and stand as a place many of them will call home for years to come.”

The residence hall naming elevates the stature of the Deavenport legacy at Mississippi State. The couple’s history of giving fuels the passion of the esteemed faculty and talented students who have been the beneficiaries of their philanthropy.

“Business and education provide a quality of life for people so that they not only can enjoy the fruits of life themselves, but also give of their time and money to help others. Through the years, my wife Mary Ann and I have desired to return something to the institution that contributed to my professional success and help Mississippi, and we are pleased the university has used our gifts to truly make a positive difference on the campus and beyond.” ~ Earnest W. “Earnie” Deavenport Jr

The Deavenports’ giving began at Mississippi State in the 1990s when they created in memory of Earnie’s parents the Earnest W. and Laura Mae Deavenport Endowed Scholarship for engineering students. They were residents of Noxubee County, Mississippi, where they farmed and operated a Western Auto store, and his mother also taught school. The couple instilled the value of a solid college education in their son. Additionally, the Earnest W. and Mary Ann Deavenport Scholarship, now enables the couple to strengthen their support of motivated engineering students.

This academic year, five engineering students are proudly attending Mississippi State with the help of Deavenport scholarships. Four are chemical engineering majors, Kennedy Caroline Curtis, currently on co-op, Zachary Dallaire, Jared Michael Ladner and Julia Huang Matson, while one, Jacob Alexander Craig, is a mechanical engineering student. The awards are typically $1,500 annually per scholar.

A sophomore recipient, Craig grew up in a Bulldog-loving family in Brooksville and once he attended a summer program on campus, he knew Mississippi State would become home for him. In the future, Craig hopes to own an engineering firm that places him in a role of “hands-on problem solver.”

“The Deavenport scholarship makes it possible for me to attend the university. I was drawn to MSU, and I’m grateful for the incredible opportunity to pursue a first-class engineering education here,” Craig said.

Another Deavenport scholarship recipient, Matson, a senior from Vicksburg, came to MSU because she was impressed with the engineering program. During her time as a student, Matson has interned with the J.M. Smucker Company in New Orleans, Louisiana, and she has co-oped with Tronox in Hamilton.

“The Deavenport scholarship has definitely helped me remain at Mississippi State in the multiple semesters I have received it,” said Matson. “It has been that steady support that has enabled me to pursue my dream here, and I am grateful for the Deavenports’ confidence in MSU students like me.”

Beyond students, the Deavenports also support another bedrock of the university–its faculty—with two prestigious endowed positions. The dean of the James Worth Bagley College of Engineering holds the Earnest W. and Mary Ann Deavenport Jr. Chair. Additionally, another endowed position, the Earnest W. Deavenport Jr. Chair, directs the Dave C. Swalm School of Chemical Engineering. The Swalm School chair was gifted by Eastman Chemical Company and has benefited from the couple’s support. The chair honors the professional achievements of Earnie Deavenport, a member of the distinguished National Academy of Engineering and the MSU Chemical Engineering Hall of Fame.

The endowed chair in the Swalm School was an initial draw for Jason Keith when he joined Mississippi State in 2011. Before coming to Mississippi, he spent more than a decade on the faculty of Michigan Technological University.

“It is a great honor for any scholar to hold an endowed chair because they are so rare in academia,” said Keith, who in 2014 became Bagley College dean and by virtue of that appointment now holds the Earnest W. and Mary Ann Deavenport Jr. Chair.


Deavenport scholarship recipients, Jared Michael Ladner and Zachary Dallaire, visit with Earnie Deavenport and Jason Keith, dean of the Bagley College of Engineering.


The Deavenport family of South Carolina gathers for the dedication of Deavenport Hall, one of the newest campus residence halls.

“The Deavenport chairs have allowed me to support projects that make a strong impact on the college and MSU, and I am also able to use the endowments for my scholarly activities, including conference and development travel to disseminate the success of the people within our college,” Keith said. “As one example, I funded the development of an iPhone app called ‘Heat Transfer for Students,’ which has had thousands of downloads from countries around the world.”

Over the course of his MSU career, Keith has developed a personal relationship with the Deavenports. “I can tell that they are ‘in my corner’ and supportive of what we are doing in the Bagley College, and I consider Earnie a great adviser,” said Keith. “Earnie and Mary Ann are very service-focused individuals. I look at all of the various boards that Earnie has served, and feel inspired to do more for my profession and for the MSU and Starkville communities.”

A strong commitment of service for Earnie Deavenport manifests itself in campus involvement. He serves on the Dean’s Advisory Council for the Bagley College, chairs the MSU Foundation board of directors, and serves on the MSU Alumni Association National Board. In these roles, he also utilizes the Master of Science in Management he earned from the Sloan School of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1985.

Another MSU faculty member who values the Deavenport influence is Bill Elmore, an associate professor who succeeded Keith as Swalm School director.

“The level of accomplishments achieved by our college is facilitated, in no small part, by the foresight of the Deavenports who have displayed their loyalty and commitment to MSU,” said Elmore. “Across the spectrum of Swalm School functions, the Deavenport Chair supports faculty activities, provides funds for both graduate and undergraduate student activities and research, and enables the pursuit of our vision to be a leader in the fields of chemical and petroleum engineering education, research and service.”

The legacy of Earnie and Mary Ann Deavenport, who married in 1962, will continue to include the people they help with their passionate support of Mississippi State. Because of their willingness to make significant and perpetual investments in students and faculty, the university is stronger from the endless impact that results from their example.

Story by Amy Cagle | Photos by Russ Houston