With more than 142,000 living alumni, the Bulldog family has roots around the world. In the greater Atlanta,Georgia area,over 4,000 Bulldogs are helping turn the Peach State Maroon and White.
As a geoscience graduate student at Mississippi State, Phillip Lana learned to forecast many things, and while he’s no longer a practicing meteorologist, he can predict a sunny outlook for the 2019 Super Bowl.
As director of operations and logistics for the Atlanta Super Bowl Host Committee, he is working to anticipate all of the city’s needs when the NFL’s biggest party comes to town.
“A lot of people don’t understand that with the Super Bowl, there’s the game but there are also potentially 150 other events that will take place within the city that weekend,” Lana explained. “It’s our job to coordinate to make sure these events can be successful.”
This marks Lana’s second time planning a major sporting event for ATL. He was also on the committee for the 2018 College Football National Championship and is on tap to help the city with the 2020 NCAA Final Four.
“A lot of cities would just go out and hire a committee for each of these events, but with Atlanta hosting all three in a row our board of directors thought it would be good to keep the group together,” the Baltimore, Maryland, native said. “You form connections with the venues and different groups, so it’s easier than having to switch out personnel.”
A 1997 graduate, Lana coordinates all of the moving parts for these events. That means ensuring everything flows properly, from team and media movements to the additional 90,000 people joining the already busy city streets. There’s also parking, security, vendors and practice venues to secure.
While Lana’s job has given him enviable access to some of the country’s hottest entertainment and sporting events, he said he rarely gets to just enjoy the action.
“I can be anywhere, but it’s constant movement. You never get to just enjoy the event,” Lana explained. “My happiness is that moment after the event when traffic is flowing smoothly and everyone is going home. That’s when I know it’s been a success and that we’ve pulled off something incredible.”
When Dr. Cara Robinson, current president of the Atlanta Chapter of the MSU Alumni Association, began creating notebooks for the group’s leaders she noticed an unexpected trend. Since 2010, and until at least 2021, the Georgia Dawgs have been led by a female president.
“It just seemed to have happened, but it also seems to be unique among alumni chapters,” Robinson said.
The trend began with Kieu Anh Tran, a 1996 civil engineering graduate. Then came Susan Yeosock, home economics, 1989; Sonja Moseley, marketing, 1995; and Michelle Sherman, psychology, 2003. Robinson, who graduated in 2003 with a degree in biological sciences will be followed by current vice president Blaire Wilson, who earned a bachelor’s in mathematics and an MBA in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
The chapter’s line of succession has members spend two years as vice president before taking on the top spot for two years.
“It helps everyone learn the ropes, which makes for a smoother transition. And rotating the roles keeps things fresh and keeps you from getting burned out,” Robinson explained. “Being president is fun but it pushes you. It gives you an outlet and helps you feel like you’re making a difference outside of work, but it keeps you on your toes.”
Part of the Atlanta Chapter’s goals is to make sure the group engages alumni of all ages and interests. The group not only hosts watch parties for football but basketball, tennis and other Bulldog sports as well. There are also a variety of activities and committees area alumni can participate in to meet their fellow MSU graduates, help recruit future students or volunteer in the community.
If someone starts attending events and shows a desire to do more, they have the opportunity to get involved in planning, then leading a committee before ultimately joining the officer ranks.
“It’s really great to see our volunteer base expanding as more people come to events and want to become involved,” Robinson, a Forrest City, Arkansas native, said. “It’s allowing us to create traditions, yearly events that people look forward to and can then expand even more.”
One of the chapter’s growing events is its Bulldog Benefit. Now in its third year, the annual event helps raise money for the chapter’s scholarship fund, which has grown from one $500 award to a total of $3,000 in scholarship funds.
“An important part of being alumni is supporting our people,” Robinson said. “We want to help them get to MSU then be here when they graduate to help them get started and know the Bulldog family is here for them.” ν
Michelle Sherman helped formally establish the partnership when she was young alumni director for the chapter.
“I found out about the organization after attending Paws in the Park one year,” Sherman explained. “We were eager to volunteer and found other alumni who were interested, plus several alumni who were already involved. Bulldogs helping bulldogs, it’s a natural partnership.”
The Atlanta Chapter has since provided volunteer and financial support for many GEBR initiatives including toy drives and special events. Chapter members also participate in the annual Bully Ball, which has had the last three generations of Mississippi State’s own Bully as special guests over the years. The black-tie, dog-friendly event raises money for neglected and abused bulldogs across the Southeast.
“Since GEBR was founded, it has helped more than 600 dogs,” Sherman explained. “We provide an alternative to shelters for owners faced with the already difficult decision of finding a new home for their bulldogs. We educate the public about the proper care of this breed and rescue these dogs regardless of medical condition.”
Sherman said the relationship with GEBR has to be mutually beneficial with the rescue participating in the chapter’s annual events Mississippi in the Park and Bulldog Benefit, a scholarship fundraiser. However, she said one of the most rewarding elements of the partnership for MSU Bulldogs is the opportunity to provide foster homes for bulldogs in need.
Since joining the organization, Sherman and her husband Brian, 2003 graduates in psychology and accountancy, respectively, have fostered seven English bulldogs as they find “furever” homes.
“We were eager to volunteer with GEBR, so as soon as we moved into our house, we started to foster,” Sherman explained. “We were ready to take a break after the sudden death of our sixth foster, Lewey, but then Simon arrived on the scene. Brian couldn’t resist.”
As a child, Joe M. Turner wore out the pages of his favorite magic book. As an adult, he wrote his own.
The 1992 Mississippi State graduate from the College of Education is known as “America’s corporate conjurer” for his unique blend of business-know-how and showmanship. A full-time magician and speaker since 2000, Turner has performed all around the world, billing himself as the “Chief Improbability Officer.”
“I’m not precisely just a speaker or just an entertainer,” Turner explained. “Sometimes I’m a speaker who is also entertaining, sometimes an entertainer who happens to drop in a little wisdom. It’s whatever fits the need for the client. It’s still me, I just kind of turn up the dial that they need on my personality.”
A native of Brandon, Turner said he never planned to make a career out of magic. In fact, other than the occasional party trick, he largely let the childhood hobby fall by the wayside when he entered his teen years. It was a turn leading children’s worship at church that brought him back to the practice as an adult.
“To entertain them I used whatever tools I had and those were the coins in my pocket,” Turner recalled. “Suddenly I had their attention and things went pretty smoothly from there. The next time my parents visited I asked them to bring my old footlocker full of magic stuff.”
Though he was still working fulltime as a management consultant, he soon became involved in local magic clubs and began to learn about the industry. When Turner’s employer asked him to transfer to another state, he took that as an opportunity to explore turning his hobby into a career.
“I was fortunate to start with a spouse, parents and in-laws who were willing to be supportive of this wild thing,” Turner explained with a laugh. “Then I had to find a way to differentiate myself.”
He got that opportunity about a year later when Coca-Cola sought proposals for an upcoming Harry Potter-themed reading initiative. The company wanted an educational magic show that could be performed by 17 traveling companies across the country.
“I’m confident my proposal looked very different from the others because I’m sure I started the planning differently,” Turner said. “My proposal went all the way from show development and performer training to how to liquidate the props when it was over. It was beginning to end how we were going to manage the show.”
While Turner said he doesn’t necessarily consider that his big break, he said it did prove that he could turn magic into a career. He also learned a valuable lesson.
“I woefully undercharged,” he said. “I just didn’t know at the time how much I undercharged for the work I did.”
Turner said he has grown a lot since his first paid gig. In addition to numerous awards, he has served as international president of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, during which time he published a book of his own magic creations. He was also elected to membership in The Magic Circle in London, where he delivered a lecture in 2015. He has performed many times at the famed Magic Castle in Hollywood and in dozens of countries across six continents.
“The truth is, I’m never going to be able to build a building on Mississippi State’s campus or endow a scholarship, but I’ve been able to see a lot of the world through magic,” Turner said. “The bottom line is, I’m enormously proud to be a Bulldog and to represent the university as an ambassador being good at what I do and spreading the gospel of MSU everywhere I go.”