Campus Celebrity: Dr. Rodney Bennett

Dr. Rodney Bennett was named the 10th president of The University of Southern Mississippi in February 2013. Since then, he has impressed Southern Miss students, faculty and alumni by taking charge in a number of ways at the university.

Shortly after he was named USM president, a tornado struck the Hattiesburg campus, causing significant damage to several campus buildings including Marsh Hall, the Mannoni Performing Arts Center and the historic Ogletree Alumni House.

At the time, Bennett was finishing up his duties as vice president of student affairs for The University of Georgia. When he got word of the tornado, he drove to Hattiesburg to get involved in the campus cleanup day.

“Although I had not worked a day on campus prior to that, I felt like this is where I needed to be and this is the work I needed to be a part of,” Bennett said in a statement.

In May, Bennett created ‘Dr. B’s Book Club,’ a Facebook campaign to encourage students to continue their studies over the summer months by picking up a book.

As an incentive, students who participated were rewarded with a seat in the president’s box at one of Southern Miss’ home football games and were also invited to a dinner reception at the President’s home.

“I’ve never been part of a book club before,” said Carly Tynes, a senior journalism major and book club participant. “I figured ‘why not?’ It would be a new way to get students talking and I wanted to be part of the conversation.”

“It was really awesome for all of us to be able to come together to celebrate reading and to celebrate just enjoying reading,” she added.

More recently, Bennett assisted state officials in delaying the closure of USM’s Army ROTC program for two years. The Army issued a letter in mid-October stating that USM’s program, along with 12 others across the country would be closed, effective after the 2014-2015 school year.

According to The Sun Herald, he traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with top Army officials to discuss the potential closure and to get criteria the program will need to meet during the two year period.

"We believe in what we're doing at Southern Miss, and our goal everyday is to help our students be successful," Bennett said. "When anybody threatens that, it gets me going, and I think this fell into that category."

Ebony Magazine announced Bennett as one of their top 100 African-American movers and shakers in their annual Power 100 list. Bennett is listed in “The Firsts” category as the first African-American president of a historically white institution of higher learning in Mississippi.

Of this accolade, Bennett said, “…It serves as a reminder of the responsibility I take very seriously as president of The University of Southern Mississippi.”

“As educators at institutions of higher learning, we must strive to provide an environment of opportunity that helps students achieve their goals and succeed in and beyond the classroom,” he said.

USM students were pleased with his appearance on the list.

“He represents and defines all of the characteristics of what it means to be a phenomenal leader of such a prestigious institution here at Southern Miss,” said Wilton Jackson, a junior broadcast journalism major. 


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