University of Mississippi

UM Liberal Arts Graduate Programs Jump in Rankings

English, history and political science doctoral programs named among nation’s best

Several programs in the UM College of Liberal Arts, headquartered in Ventress Hall, have risen in the latest rankings of graduate programs by U.S. News & World Report. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – On the heels of achieving the university’s highest-ever standing in the 2017 U.S. News & World Report annual rankings of Best (Undergraduate) Colleges and Universities, the publication’s most recent graduate academic program rankings confirm the university’s commitment to academic excellence.

Doctoral programs in English, history and political science all made significant strides in the 2018 graduate program rankings, indication of the growing strength and upward trend for UM’s graduate programs in social sciences and humanities.

The U.S. News & World Report graduate rankings for the three programs were last updated in 2013.

“We are proud of the faculty who have worked hard to distinguish our graduate programs, and these new rankings clearly indicate that they are gaining recognition for their efforts,” said Noel Wilkin, UM interim provost and executive vice chancellor. “We have encouraged each of our programs to pursue excellence and I am pleased that this pursuit is bringing recognition to our faculty, our university and our state.”

The English doctoral program demonstrated the biggest jump as it improved 16 spots, where it tied for No. 40 in the nation among public universities with fellow Southeastern Conference institutions the universities of Florida and Missouri.

A Ph.D. in history from the university has never been more valued, as the graduate program cracked the Top 40 for the first time. UM tied for No. 37 in the category – up nine spots from 2013 – and shares the position with fellow SEC and Carnegie R1 research universities Texas A&M and Kentucky.

The political science graduate program entered the rankings for the first time and tied for No. 58 among public institutions.

Lee Cohen, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, says the rankings are a testament to the university’s strong faculty, staff and students.

“These rankings demonstrate what we have believed for some time: that we have strong, competitive doctoral programs on our campus that are well-respected at the national level,” Cohen said. “Of course, without the hard work of our faculty, staff and students, and the support of university administration, none of this would be attainable.”

The rankings are based on data collected last fall via surveys sent to administrators or faculty members at schools that granted five or more doctorates in each discipline from 2011 to 2015.

“Graduate education is increasingly important and valued in today’s competitive global marketplace,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “A UM graduate degree marks someone as a leader who will exceed employer expectations and be a real-world change maker.

“In order to continue the rise of our graduate programs, we are committed to enhancing our R1 standing as well as faculty excellence, research and scholarship.”

College of  Liberal Arts

Alumni Profile: Jennifer Urban

Alumni Profile: Jennifer Urban

By Chloe Riley

Jennifer Urban, associate, Cozen O’Connor’s Washington D.C. office

Not every job allows you to interact with clients from all over the globe on a daily basis, but for alumna Jennifer Urban (BA 11, MBA 13, JD 15, LLM 16), an associate in Cozen O’Connor’s Washington D.C. office, that’s just a minor part of her job description.

Working within the trade and transportation sector of her firm, Urban specializes in aviation and maritime law. One of the over 600 attorneys at the international law firm, Urban said no two days at work are the same.

“One hour I’ll be working on a project relating to India, the next I’ll be working on a matter for a client in the United Arab Emirates,” said Urban. “That’s one of my favorite aspects about this area of law, I’m either working with clients all over the world or on projects that have an international impact.

“We advise aviation and maritime entities on an array of topics including regulatory work, economic sanctions, business transactions and antitrust issues. The maritime team represents some of the world’s largest ocean carriers. The aviation team represents both foreign and domestic airlines, aircraft charter companies, and essentially any entities that have interactions with the aviation industry. We also work on the legal aspects of many different types of drone operations.”

As Urban navigates the waters of international law, she’s constantly learning about the way different countries and cultures operate.

“It’s a new learning experience every day,” she said. “You just have to realize anything can happen within a moment’s notice but that’s exactly what I like about this work.”

Urban’s interactions in foreign relations don’t end when the workday does; her job also allows her to attend internationally focused conferences as well as events hosted at diplomats’ residences.

Not only has Urban’s job role allowed her to learn about different countries and cultures, it has also allowed her to help with humanitarian efforts.

“One of the first projects I worked on at the firm was for Samaritan’s Purse, an aid organization,” she said. “Our team helped Samaritan’s Purse obtain an unprecedented exception from the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] to fly its DC-8-72 cargo aircraft into Iraq, carrying medical provisions, equipment and other life-saving provisions to aid in humanitarian efforts with the thousands of refugees pouring into the war-torn city of Mosul. I was really proud to have been a part of this amazing undertaking.”

While Urban’s professional success is fueled by her passion for the aviation and maritime industries, it took both personal and educational experiences to realize that was the path she wanted to take.

A native of Littleton, Colorado, Urban was initially drawn to Ole Miss because of the Lott Leadership Institute. Deciding to major in public policy leadership and political science, Urban had no idea that one day she would enroll in law school, let alone spend nine years completing multiple degrees at Ole Miss.

A member of Phi Mu Fraternity, Urban wrapped up her undergraduate years and went back to Denver to start law school.

“I was unsure if I actually wanted to be a lawyer, so after the first year I decided to go back to Mississippi and do the MBA program,” she said. “When I was in the MBA program, I met the director of the [Master of Law]. in Air and Space program, Jacqueline Serrao.”

Urban and Serrao’s fortuitous meeting would ultimately change the entire direction of her career.

“Serrao told me about the LL.M. program and she really piqued my interest in this highly specialized area of law,” Urban said. “When I went to back to law school at Ole Miss, I ended up absolutely loving it.”

The LL.M. in Air and Space Law program at Ole Miss is one of the three in the world, and the only one of its kind in the United States.

“The professors and the program are so wonderful, and we are fortunate to garner international perspectives from professors who Skype in from all over the world,” she said. “I stay in contact with Professor Patrick Honnebier, the aircraft finance law professor, who skyped in from the Netherlands. His advice and expertise in this unique area has been instrumental in defining my career path. Also, Professor Honnebier’s desire to make sure his students succeed and the networking opportunities he helps to provide are very special aspects of the LL.M. program.”

Her introduction to air and space law was also influenced by her love for travel.

“I knew I wanted to work in a career involving international relations and hopefully get the chance to travel, whether it was in a business or legal position,” Urban said.

She has visited over 40 countries thus far and desires to visit every country during her lifetime.

Not only did Urban’s travel bug influence her to go into aviation law, she also saw the importance of international cultural understanding within the business world.

“Aviation and maritime are two ways different cultures are connected throughout the world. They not only represent means of transportation, but are how we conduct trade, provide international support, promote the exchange of knowledge, etc.,” Urban said. “These sectors facilitate cultural awareness, and I believe the solution to many of the world’s problems could be found through greater cultural understanding.”

After a trip to the Philippines as Serrao’s research assistant, Urban said it was the defining moment where she knew she picked the right career path.

“It solidified my decision that aviation was going to provide the global experience I wanted, and the education I would get from the aviation professors at the law school would be critical in developing my knowledge in this area.”

While Urban’s work is by no means easy, it has been extremely rewarding along the way.

“I get to work with distinguished and well respected individuals within my firm, and the partners are recognized as some of the nation’s top aviation and maritime attorneys,” Urban said. “I’m getting the opportunity to speak with so many key industry leaders, and I am so fortunate to have the chance to learn from these preeminent individuals. I greatly appreciate all the support and opportunities that they have provided thus far. One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is getting to connect with so many diverse people and emulate the characteristics that led to their accomplished carriers, because that is what helps me grow as an attorney.”

UM Professor Hopes to Shed Light on Voter Wait Times

Election Day study introduces students to data collection and analysis


Julie Wronski, an assistant professor of political science

Julie Wronski, an assistant professor of political science

University of Mississippi political science professor and her students are collaborating with researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dartmouth University and 25 other universities to study wait times at polling places in the 2016 presidential election.

Julie A. Wronski, an assistant professor of political science, had the help of 40 students from her Political Science 251 class to collect data on how long people spent at the polls. The hundreds of pages of information students collected from Lafayette, Yalobusha and Desoto counties will be paired with data collected in urban and rural areas across the country.

Researchers want to better document the variability of voter wait times across the country and understand the factors that lead to long lines.

“If we do find that there are certain precincts or certain regions where there are consistently longer times to vote, we can identify these areas and the factors that could lead to longer wait times,” Wronski said. “These issues can be ways of disenfranchising voters and making them more apathetic to the process. The fewer barriers to vote, the better.”

The UM team was the only one from Mississippi to participate. Data was collected in New York, Boston and other urban areas, as well as rural areas across the country.

The study offered a chance for students to see firsthand how states and localities conduct elections, Wronski said. The work also helped them better understand how data is collected, as well as its importance.

UM students went to polling places to sample how long voters waiting in line to check in and the amount of time voters take to cast their votes, among other information.

Mississippi law required the team to remain outside the polling places and to not interact with voters. The students respected those rules, but were still able to gather the information they needed.

“The poll workers and election officials were very welcoming to us as nonpartisan observers in a very contentious election,” Wronski said. “Just being able to see anything was great.”

The work resulted in a thick stack of records that will be compiled along with information collected by other participating universities. The findings will be analyzed along with demographic information about each precinct.

“It’s going to be matched with precinct-level data on income, race and education level, and then also matched to the precinct-level voter file to see the percentage of Republican or Democratic voting,” Wronski said. “So, we can make those empirical connections on where the longer lines were. Were they in the more Republican-leaning or Democrat-leaning, or more urban or rural, areas?”

The national team of political researchers will write up their findings for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The information may be ready by the summer of 2017.

The team also plans to use the data to educate the general public and nonprofit groups who are passionate about voting issues on the causes, costs and remedies for long lines at polls.

The class, which is an introduction to empirical analysis, is a perfect venue for giving students a chance to participate in the process of inquiry, said John M. Bruce, UM professor and chair of political science. The work brings the ideas discussed in class into a more concrete focus and gives students an “extraordinary experience,” he said.

“The collaborative study that Dr. Wronski is working on cuts to the very heart of our democracy,” Bruce said. “Voting has to be a reasonable exercise, and all voters should expect similar experiences when they vote. … Gathering this type of data is a way to begin to understand how well our citizens are able to engage in democracy.”

Haley Simmons, a political science doctoral student from Starkville, helped with the data collection project on Election Day. As a graduate assistant for Wronski, he was responsible for logistics of the research, while Wronski managed student involvement and coordinated with lead researchers from other institutions.

Simmons said he hopes the students involved in the project will eventually conduct their own research using the skills they learned.

“Introducing students to research practices and showing them that research can be fun as well as academically rewarding was the highlight of my involvement with this project,” Simmons said. “Skills we learn in graduate school classrooms are often abstract, and this opportunity allowed me to apply abstract skills to real-world research.”

Pi Sigma Alpha Undergraduate Research Conference

2017 Mississippi Pi Sigma Alpha Conference for Undergraduate Research

Saturday, April 1, 2017                           

The University of Mississippi—Oxford, MS


Call for Papers

The Alpha Rho chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha at The University of Mississippi is hosting the third annual Mississippi Pi Sigma Alpha Conference for Undergraduate Research on April 1st, 2017. All political science students are encouraged to participate, and it is not necessary for the student to be a Pi Sigma Alpha member to participate.

The purpose of this conference is to provide students with an opportunity to present their research findings in a professional setting. It is our hope that this conference will serve political science students and faculty as well as the institutions and Pi Sigma Alpha chapters they represent by:

  • Providing students an opportunity to gain experience in presenting their research in a conference environment;
  • Allowing students to receive helpful feedback from panel discussants on how to improve their current research and/or how to build upon their research;
  • Setting the stage for participating faculty and students to observe the caliber of undergraduate research being conducted across the state and use this information to further student research efforts/projects at their respective institutions; and
  • Promoting collaboration among students and faculty in areas of research presented at the conference.

Students are asked to upload an abstract of no more than 300 words that describes their central research question, a brief research design, and the current progress/stage of their research by Monday, March 13th. Students may submit any of their political science research (past, present, future) projects or papers for consideration – even if the project is still in progress (e.g. research designs).

Abstracts will be reviewed and grouped into appropriate panels for presentation on the day of the conference. Applicants will be notified of their acceptance and presentation format no later than Monday, March 20th. Presenters will be provided with constructive feedback by a consortium of faculty members and graduate students familiar with the subject matter.

Costs & Travel

Conference participants pay no registration fee and are provided lunch on the day of the conference. Since participants will be traveling from various parts of the state we are offering travel stipends to help alleviate some of the costs incurred from participating in this conference. If you are interested in applying for a travel stipend please indicate as such when uploading your abstract.

We look forward to hosting this even and having a large turnout. If there is anything we can do to help facilitate your trip to Oxford, please do not hesitate to contact Faculty Advisor, Dr. Sue Ann Skipworth at or 662-915-5407.


New Jersey Intern Genevieve LaPola

Genevieve LaPolaGenevieve LaPola

Interned with Congressman Scott Garett, New Jersey district 5.

Washington D.C. Intern Emily McKee


Emily McKee


Emily McKee

“I interned for Congressman Stephen Fincher (TN-08) in his Washington, D.C. office. Living in D.C. and working on Capitol Hill was such an amazing opportunity. I learned so much and was able to meet so many interesting people. It is definitely an experience I will never forget!”


Ohio Intern Charlotte Nichols


Charlotte Nichols

Charlotte Nichols

“I had such an amazing experience interning with Congressman Dave Joyce of Ohio this summer. Since he is a member of the Appropriations Committee, I had the unique opportunity to sit in on a number of their meetings. I learned so much about the legislative process and am looking forward to spending more time on the Hill.”

Kids in the Capitol Program Gives Fifth-Graders a Look at Government

UM McLean Institute, Department of Political Science collaborate to create opportunities

UM McLean Institute and Department of Political Science collaborate to take fifth-grade students from Charleston Middle School on a field trip to the Capitol in Jackson during the legislative session.

The UM McLean Institute and Department of Political Science collaborated to take fifth-grade students from Charleston Middle School on a field trip to the Capitol in Jackson during the legislative session.

OXFORD, Miss. – Dozens of middle school students have gotten a close-up look at their state government in action this spring, thanks to the Kids in the Capitol program, developed by the University of Mississippi’s McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement and Department of Political Science.

The goal of the outreach project was to increase political awareness by taking fifth-grade students from Charleston Middle School on a field trip to the Capitol in Jackson during legislative session. Daniel Fudge, a McLean Institute graduate fellow, and Sue Ann Skipworth, an instructional assistant professor of political science, collaborated on the program.

Fudge said he developed the idea based on his own experience as child in Arkansas, when his class was taken to the state Capitol in Little Rock.

“I can recall sitting up in the gallery and being mesmerized at watching policy in action, knowing that the work done in the legislative chambers could impact the lives of many across the state,” Fudge said. “That memory has stayed with me throughout the years and I wanted a chance to give that same opportunity to students right here in Mississippi.”

The project was funded by both the McLean Institute and the political science department.

“In learning more about the poverty levels in the Delta and combining this with my personal desire to help educate young students about the political process, I helped to forge a partnership with the McLean Institute and the Department of Political Science,” Fudge said. “This allowed me to put this trip together and give the fifth-grade class of Charleston Middle School the opportunity to see their government in action, meet their legislator and, furthermore, see the state capitol.”

The students were given an architectural and historical tour of the Capitol building, allowed to sit in the gallery for the House and Senate to witness the political process firsthand and met with their district representative, Tommy Reynolds.

“This outreach project was successful on many fronts,” Skipworth said. “It was an opportunity to expose students to a different environment. For many of these students, the largest town they had been to was Grenada or Batesville, so it was quite an experience to see a much larger city like that of Jackson.

“The success of this outreach project would not be possible without the help of the political science department and the McLean Institute, as well as the administrative staff and teachers at Charleston Middle School.”

Skipworth hopes to have continued support from the Department of Political Science and the McLean Institute to carry the project forward for many years.

Ole Miss University of MS News


AT&T Donates $100,000 for Gov. Haley Barbour Endowment at UM

Contribution to endowment is one of the first by a major corporation

Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (left) visits with Mayo Flynt, president of AT&T Mississippi, and UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter on the Ole Miss campus. Photo by Bill Dabney, UM Foundation

Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (left) visits with Mayo Flynt, president of AT&T Mississippi, and UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter on the Ole Miss campus. Photo by Bill Dabney, UM Foundation

OXFORD, Miss. – AT&T has donated $100,000 to help establish the Gov. Haley Barbour Endowment for the Study of American Politics at the University of Mississippi Department of Political Science.

AT&T is one of the first major corporations to contribute to the fund that will support a new faculty position led by a prominent American politics scholar. The initiative to create the endowment was announced last fall.

“Gov. Barbour’s impact on American politics is notable and far-reaching,” said Mayo Flynt, president of AT&T Mississippi. “It’s worthy of continued dialogue and study by scholars and political science students.

“We’re fortunate the University of Mississippi recognizes the importance of preparing the next generation of policymakers with thought-provoking education and exchange of ideas. AT&T is pleased to recognize Gov. Barbour’s successes and accomplishments with this well-deserved endowment.”

The Department of Political Science and the University Foundation established the endowment to honor Barbour in perpetuity, for recruitment and retention of outstanding faculty and to ensure quality teaching, research and service are available for future Ole Miss students.

The campaign goal is to raise $1 million for initial efforts. While $1.5 million is the standard goal to endow a chaired faculty position, the University Foundation has set a goal of $2.5 million.

“This gift from AT&T is an extraordinary vote of confidence in the work of our political science department and in the legacy of Gov. Barbour,” UM Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter said. “Developing sound policy solutions that can impact many requires a world-class education, and our graduates must be ready to understand and solve countless domestic policy issues.

“We thank AT&T for contributing to this endowment in honor of Gov. Barbour at the University of Mississippi. Their generosity underscores our approach to political science studies that is important to our campus and to public policy across the state.”

Barbour is a former two-term governor and remains one of the nation’s top political strategists. His handling of the Gulf oil spill and Hurricane Katrina, when he worked with local, state and national leadership to assist victims, received widespread praise.

He is also the author of “America’s Great Storm: Leading through Hurricane Katrina” (University Press of Mississippi, 2015), which explores leadership during a crisis.

“My life has been accentuated by numerous efforts to provide students with opportunities to successfully compete in the political arena and in any field rooted in public service,” Barbour said. “There is no place I want to do that more than at my alma mater, Ole Miss.

“If we can attract the brightest scholars, that will only benefit the young people who have so much to offer our great state and nation. I’m humbled by this endowment in my honor and look forward to strengthening the academic reputation of the University of Mississippi.”

This endowment is open to gifts from individuals and organizations. To contribute, send checks with the Gov. Haley Barbour Endowment noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, P.O. Box 249, University, MS 38655; contact Denson Hollis, senior director of major gifts, at 662-915-5092 or; or visit

Eleven UM Researchers Awarded Competitive Internal Grants

Office of Research and Sponsored Programs issues request for new proposals

Dr. Alice Clark

Alice Clark

OXFORD, Miss. – The research projects of 11 University of Mississippi faculty members were funded recently, thanks to a competitive internal grants program piloted in 2015 by the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.

The program, known as ORSP-IG, was created to support promising research in its earliest stage of development. The winning proposals were selected on the basis of their strengths in several categories, including intellectual merit, plan soundness, expected impact (at the institutional, state or national level) and the potential for attracting external investment.

“The university’s research enterprise is strong and growing thanks to the dedication of our talented faculty and researchers,” said Alice Clark, vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs. “I congratulate the 2015 award recipients and wish them continued success as they carry out their projects.”

Ranging in value from $2,750 to nearly $10,000, the awards will sponsor projects across campus. Thirty-four faculty members will directly benefit from the studies, while 69 undergraduate and nine graduate students will participate in research.

Additionally, the projects are expected to lead to at least 14 external funding proposals to major federal funding agencies, including the National Institutes for Health, National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Defense and others.

“We believe that the Investment Grants program has value beyond the sum of the internal dollars awarded,” said Jason Hale, UM director of research resources. “The competition and feedback loop should help to elevate the project narratives to a level that will be attractive to external sponsors.”

Conor Dowling, assistant professor of political science, is the principal investigator of one of the winning proposals, “Collaborative Political Science Survey Research.” Six political science faculty members joined the proposal as co-principal investigators.

The award will allow the faculty members to generate original survey data through participation in the 2016 edition of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, a survey that reaches 50,000 Americans. The process is expected to lead to scholarly publications, external grant proposals and increased graduate and undergraduate student research involvement.

Dr. Conor Dowling

Conor Dowling

“The funding of the proposal will enable the investigators to generate their own original survey data during the course of the 2016 U.S. elections,” Dowling said. “This unique opportunity, which is a part of a collaborative effort with other institutions, will form the basis of several scholarly publications and external grant proposals.

“Not only will faculty in the department be able to pursue research questions on a national scale, but graduate students and interested undergraduates will have opportunities to take part in this research project as well.”

Other 2015 “ORSP-IG Round 1” winning proposals and principal investigators were:

* “An International Graduate Program in Gravitational Physics,” Emanuele Berti, associate professor of physics and astronomy;

* “Mapping Language and Culture,” Allison Burkette, associate professor of modern languages;

* “Characterizing Gunshot Residue from a Firearm Containing 3-D Printed Components: Feasibility of Collecting and Fingerprinting Polymer Residue Using Thermal Analysis and Mass Spectrometry,” James Cizdziel, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry;

* “Archeology Chemistry: Identifying Migration and Trade in Mesoamerica,” Carolyn Freiwald, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology;

* “Recovering the Lost Library of Chartres: Pioneering the Digital Future of the Past at the University of Mississippi,” Gregory Heyworth, associate professor of English.

* “Toward a Better Understanding of Groundwater Recharge in the Mississippi Delta in Support of Sustainable Aquifer Management,” Andrew M. O’Reilly, assistant professor of geology and geological engineering;

 * “Documenting Mississippi Stories,” Ted Ownby, professor of history, director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture;

* “Visualization and Development for the SHE™ Application,” Phillip Rhodes, associate professor of computer and information science;

* “Identifying Neural Correlates of Increased Fluency Due to Multi-Modal Speech Feedback in a Stuttering Population,” Dwight Waddell, associate professor of electrical engineering;

* “The Effects of Authoritarian Iconography: An Experimental Test,” Yael Zeira, Croft assistant professor of political science and international studies;

The guidelines for the 2016 competition, known as “ORSP-IG Round 2,” have been released. Proposals by eligible researchers are invited on any topic of research, scholarly or creative interest, and special consideration will be given to those addressing issues related to race.

The Office of Research and Sponsored Programs received a high volume of proposals during 2015’s Round 1 competition. To evaluate the proposals, ORSP enlisted several Ole Miss faculty and research staff members who responded to a campuswide call for readers.

For Round 2, a similar process will be used, but a pre-proposal will no longer be required and the proposals will be submitted via a new online portal.

To learn more about ORSP-IG, see or contact Jason Hale at

University of MS News