Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter launched the Flagship Constellations Initiative to a full auditorium at the Gertrude C. Ford Center on Friday night. The initiative focuses on four themes, called constellations, for experts and university officials to present research and solutions: big data, pain wellness, community wellbeing and disaster resilience.
Vitter said the university has a duty as the state’s flagship university to be the leader for growth and solutions in Mississippi. The origin of the theme comes from the ancient Greeks using the constellations in the sky to navigate across the ocean. Just like the Greeks, the university plans to use these constellations to guide the itself forward.
“When we say the University of Mississippi is the flagship, it doesn’t mean we’re the oldest,” Vitter said. “It means we’re responsible for chartering the path of our state.”
Vitter also announced the establishment of the Ernest R. Duff Flagship Constellation Fund Foundation, which was started with a donation of $1 million from Ernest Duff’s sons, Tommy and Jim Duff. Ernest Duff was an alumnus of the university, where he served as the student body president. This donation will go toward funding the research and solutions of the flagship initiative.
The sons talked about how proud their dad would be of the fund. They told anecdotes of how their father would share stories with them of the diversity on campus and the different professors and friends he had met. Duff went on to obtain a law degree from Ole Miss and developed a “gentleman lawyer” attitude, which was a direct result of the university.
Provost Noel Wilkin said creating this initiative and fund for the university is a great accomplishment. Wilkin said he was excited about this new initiative for the university and what it means for the future of the state.
“This collaborative initiative has the ability to advance our standing as an academic institution, to magnify the influence of our research on solving major challenges faced by society and to contribute knowledge that will change the lives of others,” Wilkin said. “Most importantly, it’s exciting to see the energy our faculty have brought to this initiative.”
Representatives for the different constellations presented their research on major problems found within the scope of their themes. The different constellation teams will continue to research their problems with solutions on how to address them.
The constellation on brain wellness, given by Mike Lehman, Jennifer Reneker, Chad Washington, Kristie Willett and Lique Coolen revealed, “41,000 Mississippians are affected by strokes each year, 12,000 of those citizens will be disabled, 8,000 of those citizens will live in a nursing home, 2,000 of those citizens will die. In total, that will cost the state around $6 billion.”
The other constellations presented their research in a similar fashion with a challenge to move forward.
Wilkin closed the initiative by challenging the faculty to become involved with the constellations because they are “an open invitation” to anyone wanting to seek solutions through research. Wilkin expects to see the constellation groups grow exponentially as the committees go forward.