Dr. Mark E. Keenum
Mark E. Keenum became the 19th president of Mississippi State University on January 5, 2009. An MSU alumnus, he returned to Starkville following a distinguished public service career.
Keenum earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in agricultural economics at Mississippi State and joined the faculty in 1984 as a marketing specialist with the MSU Cooperative Extension Service. Two years later, he became a research associate with the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station at MSU. He completed his doctorate in agricultural economics at Mississippi State in 1988. He then joined the faculty of that department as an assistant professor/economist.
In 1989, Dr. Keenum was named to the Washington, D.C., staff of U.S. Senator Thad Cochran as legislative assistant for Agriculture and Natural Resources. He worked on wide-ranging issues affecting U.S. agriculture, including the 1990, 1996, and 2002 Farm Bills. From 1996-2006, he served as Senator Cochran's chief of staff. In that role, he was the chief adviser to the senator on political, legislative and appropriations issues. He managed all administrative and legislative functions of Sen. Cochran's Washington, D.C., office and three Mississippi offices. He also had oversight of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry and the Committee on Appropriations. He left Capitol Hill in 2008 to become Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the George W. Bush Administration. He held the post for two years, leading the Farm Service Agency, the Risk Management Agency and the Foreign Agricultural Service.
While at USDA, Dr. Keenum headed initiatives to combat world hunger and promote capacity-building in developing countries. For his work, he earned the Hunger's Hope Award for Distinguished Public Service from America's Second Harvest, the nation's leading hunger relief charity. At MSU, Dr. Keenum has continued the focus on this issue, creating an International Institute in 2011 to coordinate university involvement in academic and research activities on a global scale. The initiative complements the university's broader service and outreach efforts in communities across Mississippi, the region and the nation.
Under Keenum's leadership, Mississippi State has strengthened its role as the flagship research university in the state. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in 2011 classified MSU as a research university with "very high research activity," one of just 108 in the nation and the only such designation in Mississippi.
Dr. Keenum is presiding over a period of record growth at MSU, with enrollment figures setting all-time highs. The totals also include record numbers of freshmen, who report the highest grade point averages in school history.
A $100 million fund raising campaign was launched in 2009 to secure the resources to provide scholarships for students and for MSU faculty support. Called StatePride, the effort had reported more than $65 million by Summer 2011 in gifts and pledges. The first awards were distributed in Fall 2010. Dr. Keenum has also led efforts to expand funding for the MSU Promise Program, which provides scholarship assistance to students whose families have limited financial means.
A graduate of Corinth (MS) High School, Dr. Keenum earned an associate of arts degree from Northeast Mississippi Community College in Booneville and was a member of the Northeast Tigers football team.