HATTIESBURG — New University of Southern Mississippi president Rodney Bennett began his first day on the job yesterday speaking with members of local media and meeting with his executive cabinet this morning.
USM is also celebrating Founders’ Day.
“What a wonderful day to recognize the outstanding achievements of our students, faculty and staff and the founding of our university,” he said. “Today is my first day and I cannot be more thrilled to make that statement. I look forward to a long tenure here.”
Bennett addressed the university’s continuing recovery from a tornado that struck the Hattiesburg campus and Pine Belt area Feb. 10, but also noted many achievements at the institution in the last several months. University officials have been working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and insurance adjusters to assess the impact of the storm and the university’s needs for recovery.
“Feb. 10 was not only a day that changed the physical appearance of our campus, but our hearts as people who love this university,” Bennett said. He praised alumni and supporters of the university for their contributions in support of recovery from the storm, and for the work of physical plant employees and student volunteers to help clear debris.
“I thank Dr. Chris Crenshaw (physical plant director) and his staff for working long hours following the storm, and our students whose efforts were a real shot in the arm,” he said. “We’ve still got work to do and ask for the continued support from our alumni and friends, but I believe we are well on our way to restoring the campus.”
Bennett also took note of the many accomplishments of students and faculty in the last few months, including Fulbright Scholar awards to Dr. Joshua Otaigbe in polymer science and Dr. Heather Stur in history; student participation in the Clinton Global Initiative University; the nomination of student Brandon Hersey for a Truman Scholarship; Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) approval of the university’s fifth year interim report; and the selection of Dr. Lou Marciani, director of the university’s National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) to participate in a discussion on school violence at the White House, among others.
He also praised the Southern Miss men’s basketball team for a successful season and invitation to participating in the National Invitation Tournament, in which they advanced to the third round.
Bennett said he will soon share information soon about continuing financial support from the IHL through the State Legislature for various academic and construction initiatives. “This funding will help us continue the momentum we’ve enjoyed in a number of different areas,” he said. “We owe a debt of gratitude to our state leaders for this support.”
Asked by a reporter what drew him to the Southern Miss presidency, Bennett said it was the university’s academic reputation and how it develops its students to make a positive impact on their world. “Our students graduate and go on to make a real difference in the communities where they live and work,” he said.