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Westbrook Pledges Major Gift to Meek School

Posted on: September 29th, 2016 by jheo1

In true Rebel style, University of Mississippi alumna Leslie Westbrook bucked the confines of her generation and became one of the nation’s most successful consumer market specialists with Fortune 500 clients.

“Like all good Southern ladies in that era, I planned to marry my college sweetheart and teach school,” said Westbrook, a Jackson native who was named Miss Ole Miss in 1968. “I was to start the family and add to it the station wagon and dogs. Well, I cancelled the Big Fat Southern Wedding.”

Instead, she landed a job in Procter & Gamble’s Market Research Department and left Mississippi for Cincinnati, Ohio. The bachelor’s degree in education that Westbrook earned from Ole Miss in 1968 would have served her well for teaching, but she required weeks of on-the-job training for her newly chosen career as a consumer research specialist and marketing strategist.

“There is a great need to offer extensive consumer research training to students who are majoring in integrated marketing communications (IMC) through the Meek School of Journalism and New Media,” Westbrook said.


Leslie Westbrook visits with (from left) Jason McCormick, development officer for the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter, and Meek School Dean Will Norton.

Determined to see students adequately prepared to enter her profession, Westbrook recently pledged $500,000 to the university. The Leslie M. Westbrook Journalism Quasi Endowment will ultimately support the construction of a new state-of-the-art consumer research laboratory bearing Westbrook’s name.

“Leslie is very generously giving for an area to which she devoted her entire professional life. She’s basically saying how thankful she has been for her Ole Miss education and that she wants first-class opportunities that will enable students to prepare for a similar career,” said Will Norton, dean of the Meek School. “This is the first major gift for the new building, and it means a great deal to have such a significant kick off.”

Westbrook said she has discussed the school’s needs with Norton and Meek School namesake Ed Meek over the past couple of years. In addition to providing financial support, she participates in faculty support, teaching a Global Brands course during May intersession and co-teaching, guest lecturing and meeting with students several other times a year.  She also serves on the board of the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics at Ole Miss.

“We found the perfect fit,” she said. “Everything that I learned and put into practice in my career is taught in IMC over the course of the four-year program. I can speak from actual experience, from the business world, about how IMC can be utilized in a career and with a wider variety of choices — consumer research, marketing, branding, public relations, advertising, writing and more.”


Leslie Westbrook visits with students at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

In class, Westbrook often shares case studies from her work with such brands as Pringles, Pampers, Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee and the Dairy Queen Blizzard.

“I love my time back at Ole Miss, passing it forward, interacting with students,” she said. “If I can impact even one student, I am fulfilled.”

Meek said Westbrook’s gift will benefit the university community and beyond.

“Leslie’s gift will represent the beginning of a major campaign to build a new building and dramatically expand the reach of the Meek School. Her focus is a unique laboratory that will create tremendous instructional, research and service opportunities for students and faculty,” Meek said, adding that Westbrook enjoyed an extraordinary career in corporate practice nationwide.

After Procter & Gamble, Westbrook joined New Product Insights, a nationally revered new product consulting firm in Kansas City, Missouri, where she practiced qualitative research as a marketing strategist for seven years before starting her own company in Easton, Maryland. During her career, she met with many Fortune 500 companies which later became clients of Leslie M. Westbrook & Associates, Inc.

For the past 20 years, she has lived on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay near Washington, D.C., with her husband Paolo Frigerio of Milan, Italy.

“The loyalty, support and dedication of our alumni like Leslie is a key element to the university’s continued excellence,” UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “Her gift will have a transformative effect on the Meek School of Journalism and New Media as we build for the future.”

The Leslie M. Westbrook Journalism Quasi Endowment is open to gifts from individuals and organizations. To contribute, send checks with the endowment name noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., University, Miss. 38655; or visit

By Bill Dabney

National Politics Dominate Coming Overby Center Events

Posted on: September 23rd, 2016 by jheo1

An impressive combination of major political faces and popular television commentators will be featured at two separate events in the last week of September sponsored by the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics at Ole Miss.

Stuart Stevens, a veteran Republican consultant who managed Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012, will be the guest next Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 6 p.m. for a public conversation with Charles Overby, chairman of the center, and Overby Fellow Curtis Wilkie. The program will be held in the Overby Center Auditorium.

The top two figures at NBC News, Andy Lack, chairman of NBC News, and Tom Brokaw, NBC’s long-time anchor who now serves as a special correspondent, will be joined by two political heavyweights, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and former Tennessee congressman Harold Ford Jr. for a discussion of the 2016 presidential campaign at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30.The event will be moderated by Maggie Wade, an anchor at WLBT, the NBC affiliate in Jackson.

To accommodate the large crowd expected, the Sept. 30 program is being moved to the Nutt Auditorium on campus. It is being co-sponsored by Mississippi Today, the online news operation that was launched in the state earlier this year.

Both programs are free and open to the public, and special arrangements have been made to provide free parking adjacent to the Overby Center for the first event, and in a large lot next to Nutt Auditorium for the Friday night program on the eve of the Ole Miss-Memphis football game.

“This may be the best line-up of programs we’ve had in the ten year history of the Overby Center,” said Wilkie. “Coming on the same week as the first presidential debate, we hope the programs will bring some of the political drama back to Oxford that we enjoyed in 2008 when Ole Miss hosted the first presidential debate.”

Stevens, a native of Jackson, has been a force in GOP politics for decades, managing a number of Senate and gubernatorial campaigns and playing a role in former President George W. Bush’s political efforts. He has been a frequent guest on national television this year, offering sometimes biting commentary on the candidacy of Republican nominee Donald Trump. Aside from his political work, Stevens is also a well-known writer. Two years ago, “The Last Season,” his affectionate book about attending Ole Miss football games with his aging father, received strong reviews. This year, Stevens has a new novel about a political insider, “The Innocent Have Nothing To Fear,” in bookstores around the country.

The members of the NBC duo are no strangers to Ole Miss. Lack, who has ancestral links to Greenville, is one of the founders of Mississippi Today and has become a strong supporter of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Brokaw, perhaps the best-known face on television, served as the university’s commencement speaker this spring. Brokaw first came to Ole Miss exactly 16 years ago – for a friend’s birthday party in connection with an Ole Miss game — and he and members of his family have returned repeatedly over the years.

Barbour, a two-term governor of Mississippi, is still one of the dominant figures in the Republican Party. Before winning office in 2003, he served as national chairman of the party and worked in President Ronald Reagan’s White House. He is now a lobbyist in Washington and Jackson.

Ford, a member of the most prominent Democratic family in Memphis, served five terms in Congress. Though he now works on Wall Street, Ford — like Barbour – still holds important credentials in his party and is often asked to appear as a guest commentator on television. He is a regular guest on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program.



Alumni Update: Laura Beth Lyons Strickland (’08)

Posted on: September 22nd, 2016 by jheo1

laura-beth-lyons-stricklandMeek School graduate Laura Beth Lyons Strickland, communications manager at the Vicksburg, Mississippi Convention and Visitors Bureau, was named Mississippi Tourism Association Member of the Year for 2016 recently.

Strickland has been an integral leader in the rebranding of Vicksburg as The Key to the South, says a news release from the MTA. She has overseen the building and design of Vicksburg’s new responsive design website, launched a weekly blog and grown social media platforms to record levels. She also served as chair of the 2015 Mississippi Governor’s Conference on Tourism.

Her former public relations instructor, Robin Street, fondly recalls Strickland in the classroom and has kept up with her as a public relations professional.

“Laura Beth is a special young woman who puts her heart into her work, whether it was in the classroom or now in her professional work,” Street said. “It also says a lot about her that she remained in her Mississippi to put her talents to use in bettering her hometown and home state.”

Strickland graduated in 2008 with B.A. in both journalism and English, along with a specialization in public relations. She joined the Vicksburg CVB in 2009 and has worked there ever since.

Her work has been recognized multiple times with awards for websites, special events and branding from the Public Relations Association of Mississippi. She has also been named to the Vicksburg Post’s list of the “Top 20 under 40.”

Alumni Update: Alex Cox Shockey and Rachel Hammons (’10, ’14)

Posted on: September 21st, 2016 by jheo1


Just who is behind all those clever social media posts from FedEx? Two Meek School alums, of course. Alex Cox Shockey (pictured left ) and Rachel Hammons (pictured right), both communication specialists with FedEx, plan, create and oversee much of the social media for that company.

The two graduates returned to campus on Sept. 13 to speak to the same public relations techniques class they took with Robin Street, senior lecturer(pictured, center).
Shockey graduated with a degree in print journalism with an emphasis in PR in 2010. She joined FedEx in 2012 after working as a digital communications specialist for Pinnacle Airlines,  now called Endeavor Air,  for two years.

Hammons earned a degree in IMC in May 2014, then completed a master’s degree in IMC at Northwestern while also interning at FedEx.  Following her graduation from Northwestern, she began working fulltime at FedEx in January 2016. (photo credit: Hailey Heck)

Alumni Update: Madisen Theobald (’16)

Posted on: September 21st, 2016 by jheo1

Madisen Theobald at Condé Nast corporate headquarters.

Madisen Theobald is coordinator for digital advertising and product monetization for Condé Nast Publications in New York City. She works on all 16 of the company’s brands: Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair, Allure, Glamour, The New Yorker, Pitchfork and nine more. Her day-to-day duties include working with the corporate team’s directors and managers to execute and create digital advertisements and grow overall digital revenue. She also facilitates video interviews and production work for Condé Nast’s The Scene.

Madisen graduated Magna Cum Laude in May with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, a minor in graphic design and an emphasis in magazine services. While at the Meek School, she was Ole Miss Yearbook Design Editor, Daily Mississippian designer, and president of the Society for News Design chapter.

“It has been my dream to work for Condé Nast for as long as I can remember,” Theobald says “But it didn’t come easy. During my senior year at the Meek School, I worked five journalism-related jobs, strived for straight As, joined as many clubs in the Meek School that I could, found life-long mentors that saw my strengths when I saw weaknesses, and took classes that I didn’t even need to graduate just so I could learn more. The Meek School was more than the school that gave me an education and my dream job. It was my family that pushed me to be the best version of myself.”

Secretary of the Navy Opens 10th Overby Center Season

Posted on: September 14th, 2016 by jheo1

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus returns to the Ole Miss campus this weekend and will make an appearance Friday evening as the first guest of the fall season at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics.
Mabus will take part in a conversation about his long career in public service with Charles Overby, chairman of the center, at 6 the Overby Center. A reception will follow. As with all Overby Center programs, the event is free and open to the public. Arrangements have been made for parking in the lot adjacent to the Overby Center, which overlooks the Grove.

“No one in Ray Mabus’s generation has a greater record in public service in Mississippi,” said Overby Fellow Curtis Wilkie. “We’re delighted that he’s coming back to the Overby Center to talk about a political life that has had some remarkable highs as well as setbacks.”

Mabus, a summa cum laude graduate of Ole Miss in 1969, got his start in the Navy on campus as a member of the Navy ROTC unit. He later served two years as a surface warfare officer aboard the cruiser USS Little Rock.

The Ackerman native earned a master’s degree in political science from Johns Hopkins University and a juris doctorate from Harvard Law School. In 1979, the progressive William Winter was elected governor, and Mabus joined his staff – a cadre of young Mississippians including Dick Molpus, Andy Mullins, David Crews and John Henegan that became known as the “Boys of Spring.”

Mabus entered politics as a candidate, himself, in 1983 and was elected state auditor. He helped oversee an FBI investigation into corruption at the county level throughout Mississippi that resulted in the conviction of dozens of county supervisors.

Mabus was 39 when elected governor of Mississippi in 1987. He served one term but was defeated for re-election by Kirk Fordice, the first modern Republican to win the office.

An unflinching Democrat in a state rapidly being taken over by Republicans, Mabus was appointed to be U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia by President Bill Clinton.

In the following decade, Mabus was an early campaigner for Barack Obama and after his election, Obama made Mabus secretary of the Navy.

The discussion with Mabus will be the latest in a series of “Gatherings Before the Grove” that the Overby Center has hosted over the years on Friday evenings before home football games. On Sept. 30 – the night before the Ole Miss contest with Memphis – the Overby Center joins with Mississippi Today to sponsor a political discussion including Andy Lack, president of NBC News; Tom Brokaw, the network’s long-time anchor and correspondent, and former Gov. Haley Barbour. The program will be moderated by Maggie Wade of Jackson’s NBC affiliate,WLBT. It will be held at 6 p.m. at Nutt Auditorium on campus.


IMC Student John David Santi II Earns Outdoor Scholarship

Posted on: September 13th, 2016 by jheo1

MISSOULA, Montana – The Outdoor Writers Association of America awarded one of its three scholarships for the 2016-17 school year to John David Santi II, a junior studying integrated marketing and communications at the University of Mississippi. He received $1,500.

OWAA’s Education Committee, chaired by Jack Ballard, reviewed scholarship applications, scored them based upon pre-determined criteria and selected the winners.

Recipients are paid at the commencement of the fall semester, and also receive a one-year student membership in Outdoor Writers Association of America. For more information and to learn about how to apply, visit

Alumni Update: Ashley F. G. Norwood (’16)

Posted on: September 6th, 2016 by jheo1

ashley-norwoodI was awarded a masters in journalism last May. The next month, I was hired as a beat reporter for Mississippi Today, the state’s only non-partisan and non-profit digital news organization.

What began as a Master’s thesis project has now earned national attention receiving more than 15,000 views since its summer debut online. It will now continue as a documentary series that details the black experience.

“The Fly in the Buttermilk,” a short documentary on the history, perception, and purpose of black Greek-lettered organizations at Ole Miss is now airing in the national Capitol, Washington, DC, on DCTV.

The film has screened in Detroit during the inaugural African World Film festival last month. I was among 15 filmmakers, and the only one from Mississippi. I joined filmmakers from South Africa, London, Cameroon and other nations.

The “fly in the buttermilk” will be screened in New York this October at the Reel Sisters of the Diaspora’s Annual Film Festival and Lecture Series. Films by women directors of color known around the world will be screened.

The lecture will feature the short film, and I will lead a panel of researchers in comparing the roles of BGLOs on college campuses during the Civil rights and black lives matter movements.

View the project here:

Alumni Update: Browning Stubbs (’16)

Posted on: September 6th, 2016 by jheo1

browning-stubbsBrowning Stubbs, former NewsWatch Station Manager, Daily Mississippian Writer, Rebel Radio Sports Host, and 2016 Meek School Graduate, recently accepted a position with ESPN at its headquarters in Bristol, CT. He is in the production department. During the summer, Browning interned with ESPN Los Angeles, where he helped produce SportsCenter. Browning had the opportunity to produce segments, edit sound bites and video content, write graphics and scripts and create the top plays of the night. Browning also received experience in the field, helping to produce the ESPYS, the Golden Spikes Award, the CrossFit Games, and a Rams vs. Cowboys NFL Preseason game. In Bristol, Browning will continue to produce content that will air on all of ESPN’s digital and television platforms.

Alumni Update: Clancy Smith (’15)

Posted on: September 6th, 2016 by jheo1

clancy-smithClancy Smith (’15) is House Information Officer for the Mississippi House of Representatives. Smith will provide information to members of the Capitol Press Corps, respond to local news outlets on matters relating to legislation, set up news conferences for representatives and write weekly summaries of legislative proceedings.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to work with leaders of the state of Mississippi to help facilitate the legislative process and keep the public informed,” Smith said. “The Meek School of Journalism gave me the tools I needed to be ready for this position and great mentors who helped me believe I could get there.”

Smith, a native of Saltillo, Miss., earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in political science and an emphasis in public relations from The University of Mississippi before earning a master’s degree in public relations from The University of Alabama in 2016.