‘Our success is our students’: Shackouls Honors College celebrates 50 years of honors education at MSU

Sumner Fortenberry of Tupelo, a May 2018 summa cum laude political science bachelor’s graduate, smiles for the camera during a trip to Blenheim Palace as part of the Shackouls Honors College’s study abroad program in Oxford, England. (Photo by Megan Bean)

Contact: Sasha Steinberg

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State’s Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College is celebrating 50 years of the university’s honors program supporting some of the nation’s best and brightest students in their pursuit of educational excellence.

Chris Snyder, who became the honors college’s first dean in 2011, said the celebration marks five decades of undergraduate student accomplishment and highlights the university’s dedication to helping tomorrow’s young leaders reach their full potential.

Donald M. “Field” Brown of Vicksburg, MSU’s second Rhodes Scholar, graduated summa cum laude in 2014 with bachelor’s degrees in English and philosophy. Completing his dissertation in African American literature at Harvard University, he is pictured at Christ Church College in Oxford, England, where he studied English literature as an MSU student. (Photo by Megan Bean)

Over the last five years, MSU honors students have been accepted to some of the world’s most competitive graduate schools, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, universities of California-Berkeley, Cambridge, Michigan, Oxford, Texas at Austin and Virginia, as well as Columbia, Harvard, Princeton and Rutgers universities.  

“We are witnessing—at Harvard, Columbia, Oxford and other world-class institutions—the realization of the investment made by Judy and Bobby Shackouls and MSU presidents like Donald Zacharias and Mark Keenum in recruiting top undergraduates to MSU and providing them with outstanding teachers and mentors,” said Snyder, also a professor of European history.

In 2006, a generous gift from Judy and Bobby Shackouls transformed the University Honors Program into MSU’s Shackouls Honors College. Bobby Shackouls, a Greenville native and MSU chemical engineering alumnus, is retired chairman, president and chief executive officer of the oil and gas company Burlington Resources Inc.

Chris Snyder, dean of MSU’s Shackouls Honors College, is pictured with Oxford study abroad program participants at a spring croquet social in the Griffis Hall courtyard. Snyder is among world-class honors faculty who enjoy sharing knowledge and providing mentorship to students throughout their MSU experience. (Photo by Megan Bean)

To mark the 50th anniversary celebration, MSU’s honors college is planning special events for alumni and friends during Super Bulldog Weekend. C. Donald “Don” Whitmire Jr., a 1978 MSU accounting bachelor’s graduate and former president of the Student Honors Council, is part of the organizing committee.

“We anticipate a weekend highlighted by special tours of MSU’s Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library, capped off by a gala dinner that will highlight the honors program’s rich history and the fantastic accomplishments of our students and dedicated faculty,” said Whitmire, a 2010 MSU College of Business Alumni Fellow.

Snyder attributes some of the honors college’s success to expanded recruitment efforts, including visits to 100 individual Mississippi high schools in the last year. Receiving a record-high 1,346 applications in 2018, the honors college experienced a record first-time freshman enrollment of 632 this fall, bringing the college’s total enrollment to 1,755 students, the largest in Mississippi. The average ACT of enrolled honors freshmen is 31.2, and the average high school GPA of enrolled freshmen is 3.94.

Tommy Anderson, a professor of English and the honors college’s associate dean for academic affairs, said MSU honors students benefit academically and socially from the choice of two residence halls on the north side of campus. Complete with seminar classrooms and study spaces, these facilities are part of Zacharias Village, the only university honors village in Mississippi.

MSU’s Shackouls Honors College presents Seneca’s tragedy, “Phaedra,” in the Zacharias Village courtyard behind Griffis Hall. The all-student performance was part of the honors college’s annual Classical Week celebration of Greek, Roman and other ancient-world cultures. (Photo by Megan Bean)

“First-year honors students live together in Griffis and Nunnelee, take honors seminars together in the residence halls, and enjoy an array of events that contribute to establishing an honors community,” Anderson said.

The Mississippi State honors community includes students who are recipients of two of the university’s most prestigious undergraduate awards—the Presidential and Provost scholarships. Presidential Scholars have opportunities to interact with members of MSU’s extensive research faculty and participate in the honors college’s University of Oxford summer-study program in England, among other enhanced learning experiences. Provost Scholars also receive major support for academic, research and study abroad endeavors.

Through its Oxford study abroad program, the honors college supported 15 students earlier this year in their studies of English, history, creative writing, psychology, law and the sciences at the one of the world’s most prestigious institutions. Students enrolled in Oxford tutorials with an Oxford professor and took a seminar on author C.S. Lewis led by Snyder. The summer experience also included a performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet at the Globe Theatre and tours of London and Windsor Castle.

Lucas J. Ferguson of Batesville, MSU’s first Gates Cambridge Scholarship recipient and a 2017 magna cum laude biochemistry/bioinformatics bachelor’s graduate, now is pursuing his Ph.D. in immunology at University of California, Berkeley. He is pictured in a lab at MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, where as an undergraduate he collaborated with a team of researchers working to improve the system for developing life-saving flu vaccines. (Photo by Megan Bean)

MSU scholars have received numerous prestigious awards over the years. Honorees include a Rhodes Scholar and three Rhodes Scholar finalists, a Gates Cambridge Scholar, two Truman Scholars and four Truman Scholar finalists, four Goldwater Scholars and eight Goldwater Honorable Mention recipients, as well as a SMART Scholar, Boren Scholar, NOAA Scholar, Astronaut Scholar, and Humanity in Action Fellow. Three Fulbright Scholars, three Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Fellows, and four Andi Leadership Institute Fellows also have been recognized.

“Our alumni are excited about the college’s success and want to use this anniversary year to highlight the achievements of honors students past and present—including our recent Rhodes and Gates Cambridge Scholars—and to encourage more support for our distinctive curriculum, our summer program at the University of Oxford, and our prestigious Presidential and Provost Scholars programs,” Snyder said.

Discover more about MSU’s Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College at www.honors.msstate.edu.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.