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In an effort to further serve graduate students, the University of Memphis Graduate School has worked with the Graduate Student Association to launch a new non-credit certificate program to enhance the professional development of its master and doctoral students. It is a response to the fact that a growing percentage of master and doctoral students are now sought out by industry, start-ups, governments, and the non-profit sector upon graduation rather than primarily moving on into academic research and teaching careers as in the past. The Interim Dean of the Graduate School, Dr. Jasbir Dhaliwal, noted that “while most doctoral programs focus on preparing students for academic research careers, we are seeing that in many academic disciplines more than 70% of research students go on to careers outside academia. In support of this trend, we have a responsibility to ensure that our graduates are the most professional and innovative in the country to enhance their future success in all sectors.”

The certificate program, which will allow graduating students to stand out in the hiring marketplace, is built around a seminar series focused on topics such as the following:

1) Innovation and Entrepreneurial Thinking
2) Career Development for Changing Times: “The New Job Search”
3) Personal Branding and Social Networking
4) Teamwork and Negotiation Skills
5) Dissertation/Thesis Workshop and How to Publish Primer
6) Ethics and Interpersonal Relationships
7) Pedagogy and Public Speaking

The program is offered free to all graduate students on a first-come-first-serve registration basis with those completing six of the eight seminar options receiving a completion certificate from the Graduate School.

Graduate students have responded strongly to the opportunity. The first seminar on “Innovation and Entrepreneurial Thinking” filled up on the first day and the second on the “New Job Search” was filled within the first hour on its launch last week. Participation in the program is also helping foster closer personal links within the university’s community of graduate students as they come from across campus from diverse programs to interact and professionalize together.

More information can be obtained from Ms. Kaitlin Duckett, President of the Graduate Student Association (kdckett3@memphis.edu) and Dr. James Kierulff, Interim Director of Graduate Student Services at the Graduate School (jkerulff@memphis.edu).

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The University of Memphis is thrilled to announce that two honors students, juniors Melissa Byrd and Danielle Davis, are finalists for the prestigious Truman Scholarship, a national fellowship that awards up to $30,000 for graduate study.  The Truman Scholarship will be awarded to 60 applicants from a pool of 200 finalists in April, after all finalists have been interviewed by review panels.

Melissa Byrd

Melissa Byrd

There are over 600 applications for this award each year and the finalists are chosen based on “outstanding leadership potential, exceptional academic achievement, and commitment to careers in government or elsewhere in public service.”  In addition to the scholarship funding, Truman scholars receive priority admissions, supplemental financial aid, leadership training, career and graduate education advising, and special internship opportunities with the federal government.

We are proud to have our school represented by such strong candidates from diverse areas of study.

Byrd is a journalism major, concentrating on public relations, and hopes to earn a Masters of Public Administration, concentrating on public and nonprofit management policy.  Her extracurricular activities complement her course of study, as she is involved with a number of organizations, including Emerging Leaders and the Student Government Association.  She is the executive director of Up ‘Til Dawn, a fundraising organization for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and is a member of Tiger Elite, a highly selective recruitment and ambassador program through the Office of Admissions and Recruitment.

Danielle Davis

Danielle Davis

Davis is an Early Childhood Education major, and plans to pursue a Doctorate in Educational Administration and Policy.  She is also involved with a number of community and campus organizations. She is an active volunteer at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Memphis, and is interning at the Children’s Defense Fund’s Freedom Schools.  On campus, she is the Public Relations Chair for the University of Memphis Association for the Education of Young Children, and is on the advisory board for the Center of Literary Research and Practice.  She hopes to combat poverty by working to change the educational opportunities for young children in Memphis by becoming a superintendent of a low-performing school.

Both Byrd and Davis are dedicated to improving their communities and we are proud to see University of Memphis students so devoted to helping others.







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We are pleased to announce the publication of Descent, a new novel by Tim Johnston, assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of Memphis, by Algonquin Press.  Professor Johnston’s novel has received rave reviews from several national sources, including The Washington Post, Publisher’s Weekly, and NPR.  Descent has also been named one of the “ten titles to pick up now” by Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine.

Trying to summarize Descent is difficult because it is so much more than the sum of its parts.  The Minneapolis Star Tribune describes it as “an incredibly powerful, richly atmospheric and emotionally complicated novel about the way a family can fall apart, and be put back together again.”  Simply put, it is a thrilling and beautifully written novel about a family’s seemingly-innocuous vacation in the Rocky Mountains that quickly becomes terrifying when the teenaged children go for an early-morning run and the older daughter disappears.

This novel is more than just a thriller, the reviewers wax poetic about its style and characterization.  The W​ashington Post writes that “Johnston’s prose is lyrical, even poetic, to a degree rarely found in fiction, literary or otherwise” and that “the story unfolds brilliantly, always surprisingly, but the glory of Descent lies not in its plot but in the quality of the writing. The magic of his prose equals the horror of Johnston’s story; each somehow enhances the other.” The review ends on a resoundingly positive note: “The question is whether you value gorgeous prose and can accept a story as painful as it is beautiful. If you do and you can, read this astonishing novel. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Publisher’s ​Weekly shares a similar opinion, writing that Johnston “has a poet’s eye for the majestic and forbidding nature of the Rockies, and a sociologist’s understanding of how people act under pressure. … Combining domestic drama with wilderness adventure, Johnston has created a hybrid novel that is as emotionally satisfying as it is viscerally exciting.”  An NPR reviewer claims, “My heart’s still pounding even now as I’m trying to describe the novel, recalling just about every turn and twist of the action, remembering how engaged I was,​ and how surprised I f​​elt at just how far Johnston could wander from the main premise and still keep me with him.”

These glowing reviews confirm what we already knew when Johnston joined the Department of English at the University of Memphis in 2013: he’s a talented writer.  His previous publications include the story collection Irish Girl, and the Young Adult novel Never So Green, as well as a stories in various literary magazines, including New England Review, New Letters, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, Double Take, Best Life Magazine, and Narrative MagazineIrish Girl has been awarded a number of prizes, including an O. Henry Prize, the New Letters Award for Writers, and the Gival Press Short Story Award, and the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction.  If that is not enough, in 2005 the title story, “Irish Girl,” was included in the David Sedaris anthology of favorites, Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules. Johnston also holds degrees from the University of Iowa and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In 2011-12 he was the Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington Fellow at George Washington University.johnston_poster

On top of everything else, Johnston is a great teacher and is very popular with students.  He was also involved in the creation of the University’s Communication and Writing Center (commonly called the CWC) and is currently the editor of The Pinch, the University’s award-winning literary journal.

The Marcus Orr Center for the Humanities, in conjunction with the Department of English, will be hosting a reading by Tim Johnston on Thursday, February 19 on the University of Memphis campus, in the University Center’s Bluff Room (UC 304).  There will be lots of festivities including: a reception starting at 5:30pm, a reading at 6:00p, followed by a Q&A session and a book signing.  Representatives from the university bookstore will be there to sell copies both of Descent and of some of Tim’s earlier publications.  Everyone is welcomed and encouraged to attend, both within the University community and the general public.  To find out more, watch for details on the MOCH website, http://www.memphis.edu/moch/index.htm, and the English Department’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/UOfMemphisDepartmentOfEnglish.

Pick up a copy of Descent today at one of the local bookstores and then join us for the festivities in February!


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In Fall 2014, 3652 first year students enrolled at the University of Memphis. Forty-two percent of these students were first generation. In other words, forty-two percent of incoming University of Memphis students come from a family in which neither parent has a four year college degree.

First generation students often experience challenges along the road to graduation. For example, they are more likely to work while attending school, be financially independent from their parents, and attend college on a part-time basis.  First generation students are also more likely to begin at a community college and take remedial classes. Since they don’t have a parent to model the experience of finishing a college degree, first generation students may struggle with self-doubt about whether they are college material. Although families of first generation students often want to be supportive, they may have their own struggles which demand the student’s attention or fail to understand college life. National surveys have indicated that first generation students are 20-35% less likely to graduate from college than continuing generation students (Aud, et al., 2012).

Recognizing that first generation students face a unique set of challenges, the University of Memphis has teamed up with the Suder Foundation to provide a series of programs to first generation students. Established in 2011, the First Scholars program is the longest running of these programs. First Scholars gives twenty first-time, full-time freshman a combination of financial support and programming in a supportive community each year. Building off of the success of First Scholars, the University of Memphis is launching three new initiatives: 1) The Tiger Success Institute offering workshops to first generation students about how to be successful in college: www.memphis.edu/careerservices/tsi-intro.php; 2) the Professional Development program offering training to faculty, staff, and advisors; and 3) the First Scholars Living Learning Community that will be opening in Fall 2015 in the new Centennial Hall.

The First Scholars program has demonstrated that the right support can significantly boost first generation students’ chances of success. There are many ways that faculty, staff, and advisors can support first generation students. For example, they can 1) create a welcoming environment in the classroom; 2) encourage students to ask questions and seek help when they don’t understand; 3) make students aware of psycho-social resources on campus such as tutoring, coaching or counseling; and 4) talk openly with students about their family background and college experience. Faculty, staff, and advisors can also become more involved by serving as a mentor to a first scholar. To get more information or sign up to be a mentor, contact firstscholars@memphis.edu. To get more information on training for faculty, staff, and students, contact the Provost’s Fellow at ktschffz@memphis.edu. More information can also be obtained at www.memphis.edu/firstscholars.

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Dr. Mohamed Laradji, professor in the Department of Physics, has recently been elected fellow of the American Physical Society (APS). Founded in 1899, the APS is the largest organization of physicists in the world.  The organization awards the fellowship each year to no more than half a percent of its membership. The prestigious fellowship is given for significant contributions to the physics enterprise and signifies recognition by one’s professional peers of the importance and impact of a body of scholarly work. More information on this prestigious award is found on the American Physical Society website http://www.aps.org/programs/honors/fellowships.

Dr. Laradji is the first University of Memphis faculty member to receive this honor. He was recognized, “for his pioneering and seminal contributions to applications of computational techniques in elucidating physics of the biomembranes, complex fluids, and polymers.” Dr. Laradji has more than fifty publications and his work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Research Corporation, and the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund. He joined the University of Memphis in 2002 after completing his PhD at McGill University, serving as postdoctoral research associate at the University of Georgia and the University of Toronto, and serving as assistant professor at the University of Prince Edward Island. In 2011, he was recognized by the College of Arts & Sciences with the Distinguished Research Award.

Dr. Laradji hopes that this honor will bring increased recognition to physics research at the University of Memphis and the opportunities at University of Memphis for physics graduate students to work with top researchers in the field.  The University of Memphis Provost’s Office congratulates Dr. Laradji and appreciates the contribution that he and his colleagues are making to the field.

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The School of Communication Sciences and Disorders has been featured in a special issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Audiology. According to Dr. Lisa Lucks Mendel, “the research presented [in the issue] represents the collaborative efforts of our faculty, research associates, and Ph.D. and Au.D. students. This collaborative spirit supports the advancement of cutting edge knowledge in the hearing sciences that has resulted in more than 170 publications by faculty and students in the past 20 years” (2014, p. 714).

The six articles in the special issue present research from four auditory laboratories at the University of Memphis: the Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, the Hearing Aid Research Laboratory, the Hearing Science Laboratory, and the Speech Perception Assessment Laboratory. Even though the articles were submitted together as a special issue, they each underwent a rigorous peer review process prior to publication. Research in the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders is funded by a State of Tennessee Center of Excellence, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Deafness Foundation, the American Hearing Research Foundation, the GRAMMY Foundation, the American Academy of Audiology Foundation, the American Speech-Hearing-Language Foundation, the US and Tennessee Departments of Education, and other private foundations.

It is very rare for the Journal of the American Academy of Audiology to feature a program in a special edition, and the University of Memphis is proud to have received this honor. The University is featured in volume 25 number 8 published in September 2014. Nine faculty, research associates, students, and alumni contributed to the six articles in the issue.

Dr. Maurice Mendel, Dean of the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, explains that the school has had a long history of cutting edge research in audiology. He expects that this legacy will continue into the future with the opening of the new Community Health Building on South Campus. For the first time in 43 years, the School will be located in one building. The new location will be beneficial to students, faculty, and community members.

Lucks Mendel, L. (2014). Auditory research at the University of Memphis: Faculty and students working together. Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, 25 (8), 714.

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Congratulations to Dr. Irena Lasiecka, distinguished university professor and chair of the Department of Mathematics who has been selected as a 2015 Fellow of the American Mathematical Society (AMS). Dr. Lasiecka joins Bela Bolllobas and Jerome Goldstein from the Mathematics Department who have been recognized as AMS fellows in prior years. The Fellows of the American Mathematical Society program recognizes members who have made outstanding contributions to the creation, exposition, advancement, communication, and utilization of mathematics. The society recognized Dr. Lesiecka for her contributions to control theory of partial differential equations (PDEs), mentorship, and service to professional societies. More information on this prestigious honor can be found on the American Mathematical Society website.  (http://www.ams.org/profession/ams-fellows/ams-fellows)

Dr. Lasiecka’s induction into the AMS Fellows program represents one of the many national and international honors she has received for her research on PDEs and related control theory. She received the 2011 Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics W.T. Idalia Reid Prize for contribution to differential equations and control theory and the 2004 Institute for Electronics and Electrical Engineers (IEEE) Fellow for contribution to boundary control theory. She was in the original Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) list of the 250 most highly cited mathematicians worldwide. She has been key note speaker at five national and international conferences since joining the University of Memphis in August 2013. Finally in 2013 while on faculty at the University of Virginia, she was recognized as one of the Top 26 Women Professors in Virginia.

Dr. Lasiecka has advised twenty-four Ph.D. students and fifteen postdocs who have pursued successful research careers academia, the private sector, and governmental sectors. As chair of the mathematics department, she hopes to use the strong research reputations of her faculty to bring more attention to the graduate program in mathematics at the University of Memphis and to grow external funding for graduate students. Additionally, she hopes to strengthen the interdisciplinary connections between math, computer science, physics, and the Institute for Intelligent Systems (IIS). The University of Memphis is proud to have Dr. Lasiecka as a member of our faculty.

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The Department of Human Resources, Organization, and Employee Development at the University of Memphis is making a big impact on the community. In keeping with the President’s community service initiative, Human Resources has launched its first Minority Male Initiative. The initiative will feature a series of workshops to give minority men at both the University and in the Memphis community opportunities for networking, leadership development, career enhancement, and career development.

The Department held its first workshop on October 28th entitled, “Tomorrow’s Leaders Today.” The workshop featured presentations from Shannon Brown, Chief Human Resources and Diversity Officer from FedEx; Robert White, Chief of Staff for the City of Memphis; Dr. Wesley Fox, Department Head of Business and Legal Studies at Southwest Tennessee Community College; and Lonnie Latham, retired Associate Dean of Multicultural Affairs for the University of Memphis. Sixty-one people attended the event and sixty percent of attendees came from the community. Attendees who were currently unemployed had an opportunity for one-on-one mentoring with workshop leaders.

The next workshop is planned for December 9th from 5:30 – 7:00 pm in the University Center Bluff Room (room 304). The workshop will feature information on dressing for success, resume writing, preparing for interviews, and interview follow-up. Additional workshops are planned for 2015, and the Department hopes to reach an even broader community of minority males in future workshops.

Iliana Ricelli, senior director in the Department, explains that “this is a Human Resources initiative, but the HR Department could not have done this alone.” The Diversity Initiatives Office of the University of Memphis has been instrumental in providing support to sustain this programming. The University of Memphis appreciates the work of the Department of Human Resources, Organization, and Employee Development and its impact on our community.

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When Patsy Whitehorn Krech entered the University of Memphis forty-five years ago, she didn’t know that she would be the first in a long line of Tigers. Patsy, the oldest of five siblings, was the first in her family to attend college. Although Patsy’s father had only a sixth grade education, he believed in the importance of a college education and instilled that value in his five children. Patsy graduated from the University of Memphis with her degree in English and secondary education in 1973. Over the next ten years, her siblings Michael, Linda, Tim, and Kristy followed in her footsteps finishing degrees in accounting, social work, math, business, and fashion merchandising.

Both Patsy Krech and her younger brother Tim Whitehorn found that the University of Memphis provided them the opportunity to receive an excellent education close to home. Patsy explains that the University of Memphis “brought out strengths in her that she didn’t realize she had.” For Tim, his undergraduate degree in math and Master of Business Administration led him “to places in his career that he never dreamed” he would achieve. For Tim, the University of Memphis provided him the opportunity to remain close to his aging parents while receiving an excellent education, working at FedEx, and playing on the University’s national champion handball team.

Patsy and her four younger siblings started a University of Memphis tradition that extends into the next generation. Patsy’s daughter, Emily Krech Mayne, graduated in 2004 with an undergraduate degree in theatre and is currently completing a graduate degree in speech language pathology. Emily’s degree in theatre afforded her the opportunity to complete an internship at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, a Tony Award winning Best Regional Theatre. Emily’s current program in speech language pathology is giving her the opportunity to gain research-based knowledge and apply it to practical experience in an internship.

Andrew Gafford, Patsy’s nephew, graduated in 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts in communications and a concentration in film and video production. Andrew notes that despite University of Memphis’ reputation as an underdog that doesn’t have all the “bells and whistles of a bigger program,” he is now finding that he received an excellent education that well prepared him for the job market in his chosen field. Andrew explains that his faculty and fellow students in the film concentration created a collaborative environment that nurtured his growth into an excellent filmmaker and critical thinker. He is now working freelance in films, commercials, and music videos in New York City.

Patsy reports that the Tiger tradition is carrying on as one of her nephews is considering the University of Memphis. Patsy is proud that she has been able to use her degrees to come back to the University as director of advising for the College of Arts & Sciences. The University of Memphis is proud to have dreamers, thinkers, and doers like the Krech/Whitehorn family.

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Dr. Tesfau Alexander


Tesfa Alexander, Ph.D. has been an outstanding member of the University of Memphis since his days as a doctoral student in health communication. As a doctoral student, he spent two summers in Uganda working with both biomedical and indigenous providers to understand how trust shapes working relationships with providers and health-seeking behaviors. This work resulted in his dissertation entitled, “Engaging Rural Community Members as Problem Solvers: Application of Health Communication to Improve the Quality of Health Care in Southwest Uganda” that he completed and defended in Fall 2010. Dr. Alexander completed his dissertation under the direction of Mandy Young, and he reports that Dr. Young as well as other faculty provided him with a strong background in health communication theory.

Dr. Alexander has been able to translate this knowledge of theory into practice. Upon completion of his doctoral degree, Dr. Alexander completed a fellowship at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Currently, he is employed by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). At the FDA, he leads all of the research and evaluation in health communication and education for the Center for Tobacco Products. He and his team guide formative research that results in smoking prevention advertisements aimed at youth age 12-17 and other at-risk populations. Dr. Alexander has been able to take the knowledge he gained during his doctoral program about how to impact the knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of youth and apply and evaluate the impact of his work on a national scale.

Dr. Alexander’s impact extends beyond his work at the FDA. Recently, he has started the I Am Photo Project, http://iamphotoproject.com/.  In this project, forty-six African American men from seventeen U.S. cities tell their stories. Dr. Alexander started this project as a way to constructively channel emotions about death of Trayvon Martin and other tragic events that stem from erroneous stereotypes of black men. He hopes that his photo project will be an educational tool for critical reflection on negative stereotypes that are associated with being a black man. The project has been featured on MSNBC, http://www.msnbc.com/melissa-harris-perry/watch/photo-project-amplifies-voices-of-black-men-326002755720 and Buzzfeed, http://www.buzzfeed.com/hnigatu/one-artists-journey-to-photograph-the-black-men-of-america?utm_term=3m75i39#2vew8sd

Tesfa Alexander is a University of Memphis alumnus who is making a big impact on a national scale. Yet, he also makes time to give back to the University of Memphis serving as an adjunct for the health communication program. The University of Memphis is proud of alumni like Dr. Alexander that are making a big impact.


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