On its 20th anniversary, attendees gathered to support the newly christened Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College after a year of renovations.
More than 100 people were in attendance, some standing while others sat crossed-legged on the floor as Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter welcomed the Barksdale family and other community figures, including former mayor Pat Patterson, Honors College Dean Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, as well as others.
“This building looks absolutely fantastic,” Vitter said. “I think everyone in our entire university community can feel truly proud.”
Founded in 1997, the Honors College enlarged the common areas and created more study spaces with computer space and classrooms. It added 15,000 square feet to the existing structure.
Vitter said since the first class of students, the class size grew from fewer than 400 to the current size of more than 1,400 students. The average ACT average has risen to 31, up from 29.7 in 2002.
“This Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College is an incredible asset to our university,” Vitter said. “It truly distinguishes us from all other institutions and allows Ole Miss to offer exceptional personalized learning experience to extremely talented students.”
The project was funded by a donation from Jim Barksdale, a former Netscape executive and husband of Sally McDonnell. Barksdale donated $2 million toward the project along with $4 million from the university.
“We’re so proud,” Barksdale said. “This has been a marvelously rewarding experience, and we are so happy with the success of our investment at the Honors College.”
Two alumni also spoke about the profound impact of the college’s educational environment and the opportunities that changed their lives.
2011 graduate Christin Gates Calloway went on to graduate from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and is currently earning her doctorate in education policy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Calloway said the college was the space on campus where she built lifelong friendships and learned to engage respectfully, despite differences.
“Most importantly, this space nurtured me into the young scholar that I am today,” Calloway said. “This beautiful new facility is the heart of campus for generations to come.”
2006 graduate Dr. Marc Walker shared his experience of working with medical missionaries in Bolivia. After the trip was organized, Walker went with a group of students to a poverty-stricken area in South America over spring break.
“With the support of the honors college and the university leadership at the time, a few months later, as a junior, I boarded my first flight out of the country and joined my first medical mission,” Walker said.
The group spent 10 days walking door to door delivering medicine. It built homes for families and playgrounds for the children.
“The world was changed for me,” Walker said with tears in his voice.
Walker went back to serve in Bolivia the next year. Later he went on to graduate from Harvard Medical School and Harvard Business School.
“Ten days ago, I returned from my fifth international medical mission. But this time was different. This time I wasn’t watching – I was doing,” Walker said.
Walker and one other doctor performed nearly 100 surgeries and treated hundreds of patients for hand deformities. They were the only hand surgeons in the country.
“Every morning I woke up in Nicaragua, it was like waking up in Bolivia all over again,” Walker said.
Walker said he credits the Honors College with providing the tools for a successful education. He said the building is not just an investment in the university but also in the students who will be housed in years to come.
“I am very, very excited to see what those students do next after finishing at the Honors College,” Walker said.