MSU announces 2017 President's Commission on the Status of Women Award selections

During an April 4 ceremony, Mississippi State University honored six individuals with 2017 President’s Commission on the Status of Women awards. Pictured with MSU President Mark E. Keenum, center, they include, from left to right, Nelle Cohen, Yvett Roby, Emily Turner, Betty Thomas, Margaret Khaitsa and Kelli Russell. (Photo by Russ Houston)

Contact: Sasha Steinberg

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State is honoring six individuals with 2017 President's Commission on the Status of Women awards.

During an April 4 ceremony, the MSU President’s Commission on the Status of Women recognized:

—Nelle Cohen, Community Award Winner;

—Margaret Khaitsa, Faculty Award Winner;

—Yvett Roby, Staff Award Winner; and

—Kelli Russell, Graduate Award Winner.

Additionally, senior agribusiness/policy and law major Elizabeth M. “Betty” Thomas of Lenexa, Kansas, and senior civil engineering/environmental engineering major Emily S. Turner of Columbia, South Carolina, received Student Leadership Awards.

“‘The future is female’ is a phrase that became popular in 2016, but actually harkens back to the 1970s when it was a slogan describing women’s progress and struggles for equality,” PCSW Chair Kimberly Kelly told the audience.

“We may add to this the more recently coined slogan, ‘the future is local,’ emphasizing local organizing, local leadership and local progress…building up to change that is insistent, persistent and consistent…spreading across both our campus and the community and into the world beyond. Our six award winners exemplify both of these ideals,” added Kelly, an associate professor of sociology and director of MSU’s gender studies program.

MSU President Mark E. Keenum presented the prestigious awards at the ceremony held in the university’s Griffis Hall.

Cohen is a community volunteer who has served on several local and state charitable boards, including the Starkville Foundation for Public Education, Parents for Public Schools Starkville, and Mississippi Kids Count. She is a founding board member for Mississippi State University’s Collegiate Recovery Community, a program for students in long-term recovery from alcoholism, drug addiction and all process addictions. She holds a bachelor’s in sociology from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and a master’s in health promotion from Northwestern State University of Louisiana.

Khaitsa has served since 2013 as a professor of veterinary epidemiology with a focus on international veterinary medicine in the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Pathobiology and Population Medicine. She founded Higher Education Resource Services-East Africa, an educational nonprofit that provides leadership and management development for women in higher education institutions in East Africa. She also serves as secretary for the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League at Saint Luke Lutheran Church in Starkville. She graduated from Makerere University in Uganda with a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine in 1982. She also earned a master’s in tropical veterinary medicine in 1987 from the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, as well as a doctorate in veterinary preventive medicine from The Ohio State University in 1999.

Roby is a staff counselor and victim advocate coordinator for MSU’s Student Counseling Services. She is a licensed professional counselor, board qualified supervisor, approved clinical supervisor and national certified counselor. She received a bachelor’s in psychology from the University of Southern Mississippi and a master’s in counseling psychology from the University of West Alabama. Along with providing therapy and empowering survivors of violence, she enjoys connecting students with campus and community resources.

Russell is a master’s student in the Department of Sociology, where her research currently focuses on farmers’ perspectives of government agricultural programs and resources. She is a graduate fellow with the Myrlie Evers-Williams Institute for the Elimination of Health Disparities, as well as coordinator of the Oktibbeha County Community Foods Group. A former PCSW graduate student representative, she previously worked as a field representative for the late Congressman Alan Nunnelee. She holds bachelor’s degrees in history and political science from Wheaton College in Illinois.

Thomas is an MSU Presidential Scholar and Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College student. A member of Delta Gamma Sorority, Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and MSU’s Society of Scholars, she is the newly elected Student Association treasurer. She has served as SA’s co-director of community and government relations. A 2016 William A. Demmer Scholars Program participant, she served as a Cochran Fellowship Program Intern at the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service.

Turner is serving as president of the MSU chapter of the Society of Women Engineers for the 2016-17 academic year. An MSU Presidential Scholar, she is an active member of the Wesley Foundation leadership team, as well as Tau Beta Pi National Engineering Honor Society, Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and Chi Epsilon National Civil Engineering Honor Society. As a Science, Math and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholar, she will intern with the Army Corps of Engineers in Anchorage, Alaska, this summer and next, and plans to begin full-time work in Anchorage upon graduation.

For more than three decades, the MSU President’s Commission on the Status of Women has advised the university chief executive on issues affecting the status and role of women on campus, as well as sponsored informational and educational programs that promote advocacy, leadership and inclusion. Learn more at

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