Wednesday, January 27, 2021   
MSU giving hundreds of completion grants to financially needy students nearing graduation
Hundreds of Mississippi State University undergraduates will receive an extra $1,000 from the university designed to help them make ends meet during their final year before graduation. MSU announced its first completion grants Tuesday, given to students in financial need who have completed at least 75 percent of their credit hours and are within a year of graduation. "Our goal had been to look at those students that were experiencing financial challenges in the last two semesters of college and wondering how we could better support those students so they could meet the goal of college graduation," said John Daniels, financial literacy coordinator with the university's student financial aid office. "As with COVID, we realized that oftentimes those needs were amplified. Not only were the needs amplified, but we began to find out more funding opportunities related to COVID relief and programs through the governor's office that we wanted to participate in so that we could get these funds to the students that needed them in a timely fashion." The grants are funded through a four-year, $200,000 grant from Woodward Hines Educational Foundation, which is matched by $200,000 from the university, according to an MSU press release. MSU also will receive $861,637.50 in GEER (Governor's Emergency Education Relief) funds from the state to be used this year. Vice President for Students Affairs Regina Young Hyatt said the Woodward Hines grants are aiding 68 students this semester and will help about the same number of students each semester over the next three years. The GEER funds, which the university must spend this year, are helping closer to 750 students, she said.
Over $1.26M in completion grants help hundreds of MSU students bridge financial gaps to reach graduation 'finish line'
Mississippi State is helping students who are weighing tough financial decisions about college completion tip the scales in their favor during the pandemic. The university is providing more than $1.26 million in completion grants to under-resourced students who are approaching graduation but may need more funds to get the few credit hours needed to earn their diploma. "These are given in the last year of a student's degree program to help them get over the finish line," said Vice President for Student Affairs Regina Hyatt. "We don't want to see any of our students forced to drop out of school when they are this close to accomplishing their goal, and these completion grants can be critical for students facing real financial strain." She explained that the importance of students reaching the graduation milestone was further emphasized by a longitudinal study beginning in 2009 and conducted by MSU's National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center. NSPARC's findings revealed that MSU students who drop out near graduation will earn $1,049,700 less over the course of their lifetime than those who graduate.
What's going on with Chadwick Lake? a look behind the scenes
Mississippi State University students returning to campus this spring may have noticed a surprising lack of lake at their favorite scenic running spot. The Chadwick Lake walking trail, located behind the Joe Frank Sanderson Center on the north end of campus, provides a glimpse of nature in the midst of MSU's campus and the town of Starkville. However, last semester, the lake's picturesque beauty was tainted with a large buildup of smelly algae. Then, beginning in early December, half of the lake went missing. "Those are our footsteps out there," said Brett Brasher, an engineer with Neel-Schaffer construction management firm, as he pointed to the exposed mud of the lake bed. Sporting muddy knee-high rubber boots and standing on the side of the lake with surveying equipment, Brasher said Chadwick had been purposely lowered for them to be able to perform a topographic survey of the lake. According to Saunders Ramsey, MSU's director of Campus Services, the lake was drained by opening an overflow valve under the levee on the north side of the lake and will refill naturally by rain water. Campus Services has already installed a berm on the west side of the lake that will use plant material to act as a natural filter for any pollutants attempting to enter the lake, but Ramsey said he is hopeful a more holistic solution will be developed this spring and implemented in the next 6-18 months.
Research Key to Fighting Cotton Virus
Researchers and farmers are working together to battle the cotton leafroll dwarf virus (CLRDV) that threatens the $7 billion U.S. cotton industry. Scientists presented the latest information, including research plot and cultivar test findings, about CLRDV earlier this month at the 2021 Beltwide Cotton Conferences. Researchers are studying the pathogen to help plant breeders develop resistant cultivars and provide growers management strategies. The pathogen can interfere with normal plant growth and development, which can cause yield loss. CLRDV hasn't caused widespread damage in the U.S. yet, but scientists and growers say the potential exists. The virus is transmitted to cotton by the cotton aphid. Research suggests cotton aphids can transmit the virus to cotton in less than a minute and can spread it for 8 to 12 days. "Be mindful that even though cotton aphids transmit the virus, this does not mean that all fields that have an aphid infestation are infected with CLRDV," Tom Allen, Mississippi State University plant pathologist, said in a press release. Keeping cotton as healthy as possible is recommended, which will reduce plant stress to help it combat the virus.
Insect infestation is killing area crepe myrtles
A tree which is a southern favorite for its colorful summer blooms is under attack by an insect infestation. Plant experts say the crape myrtle, popular in yards and landscapes across the metro, is slowly dying off unless drastic measures are taken. "I began noticing these plants like this this past summer," said Brandon Mayor Butch Lee pointing to blacken crepe myrtles in front of City Hall. In the following months into winter, he has been watching the trees there and around the city become infested with bark scale. The scale, a white fuzzy insect, attaches to the tree, feeding on the sap and producing what is called sooty mold, which is feces. The scales have also targeted trees throughout the metro. Mississippi State Extension Area Horticulturist Donna Beliech said there are two options for treatment that can be found at garden centers. "If you want to keep the crepe myrtles and keep it looking good you will have to either treat in the winter time with the dormant oil and then in the early spring with the systemic insecticide or you will have to put up with it," said Beliech.
MSU veterinary imaging research aims to help both man and his best friend
Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine is working to advance early disease detection in animals through their ground-breaking research in imaging technologies. According to Dr. Alison Lee, doctor of veterinary medicine and assistant professor at MSU, the Department of Veterinary Medicine is using imaging technology such as CT and MRI machines to detect issues like brain tumors and inflammatory and infectious diseases in an animal's brain. Lee said this research is conducted at an imaging center on Stark Road. Researchers are primarily using the MRI machine to focus on a brain tumor study. "The MRI allows us to see central nervous tissue -- the brain and the spinal cord -- much better than any other imaging technologies let us see it. It can tell us when there is anything abnormal in the brain," Lee said. Dr. Andy Shores, clinical professor and CVM chief of neurosurgery and neurology, said this research is profound because brain tumors affect humans and animals in very similar ways, leading to advancement for the treatment of both groups. Shores said the National Institute of Health has provided funding for MSU's researchers to look at novel ways to treat brain tumors, specifically glioblastoma, in both humans and animals.
Starkville Utilities Proactively Prepares for Winter's Challenges
When the leaves turn brown and the sky is gray, some may be dreaming of warmer climates and sandy beaches. Not crews at Starkville Utilities who prepare year-round for the challenges winter weather can bring. Through preventative maintenance, tree trimming and other measures, crews are enhancing reliability before storms hit, making restoration safer and smoother for everyone. "While we can't control the weather, we can be as proactive as possible to safely speed the outage restoration process and minimize the impact on the lives of our customers," said Terry Kemp, general manager of Starkville Utilities. "Trees and branches are the biggest threat to the electricity grid during storms, so trimming them back is key to maintaining the system." That's why Starkville Utilities works diligently to clear branches and trees from power lines -- an effective strategy to reduce storm-related outages in all seasons. As part of its inclement weather program, Starkville Utilities' crews also conduct monthly line patrols to identify equipment problems and initiate repairs.
MDAH grants to help with repairs at Tennessee Williams, Lee homes, Noxubee County library
By their nature, "historic" buildings are susceptible to the ravages of time and weather. By their designation, repairs aren't cheap. On Friday, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History awarded almost $3 million in grants, ranging from $25,600 to $277,154, for 18 projects, including two in Columbus and another in Macon. The grants are funded each year by the Legislature under the MDAH Community Heritage Preservation program. In Columbus, MDAH awarded $25,600 to repair the front porch roof at the Stephen D. Lee Home and $35,000 to rebuild the front porch at the Tennessee Williams Home and Visitors Center. In Noxubee County, MDAH awarded $200,044 to replace the clay tile and make exterior repairs to the Noxubee County Library in Macon. All three buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are designated Mississippi Landmarks. All grants require a 20-percent match. Construction started on the Stephen D. Lee Home on Seventh Street North in 1847, but the porch was added in the 1880s. Eulalie Davis, president of the foundation that manages the home, said the front porch roof has been in need of repairs for about 10 years. In addition to the roof, Kaye said the grant will also cover the expense of replacing some of the wood in the roof's infrastructure.
Order furniture? Delivery could take months
People who ordered furniture recently could have to wait months for it to be delivered. One local furniture store owner told WTVA that furniture stores are having some of the best business they've ever had, but delivery times are also the longest they've ever been. Furniture became like toilet paper was at the beginning of the pandemic," Lisa Hawkins said. Hawkins is president and owner of Room To Room Furniture in Tupelo. She closed the store when the pandemic began in March and reopened in May. She said it was then when the store had the highest sales it's had in its 18 years. "Initially we were able to meet demand, but it soon became apparent that the industry was not going to be able to keep up," Hawkins said. Hawkins explained orders for new furniture are coming in so rapidly that it's all but impossible to project when merchandise will arrive. "We do our best to tell what we know, but I'm just telling you, the nation is in a furniture-buying frenzy."
Department of Health: Weekly vaccine allocation remains consistent
Mississippi is expecting to receive around 37,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine this week from the federal government, the same allocation the state has received for the last several weeks, state Department of Health spokesperson Liz Sharlot said Tuesday. "Of course, additional vaccine would be wonderful but for now, we are receiving what we expected," Sharlot wrote in an email. Sharlot said health officials haven't noticed any changes to Mississippi's vaccine allocation in the last week since newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden took office. Mississippi is using 19 drive-thru facilities, clinics and hospitals to complete vaccinations for those 65 and older, health care workers and those who are at least 16 and have health conditions that might make them more vulnerable to the virus. As of Tuesday, 175,417 people in Mississippi have received their first dose of vaccine, and 18,012 have received their first and second dose, according to data provided by the Department of Health. Mississippi has a population of around 3 million.
'Unpredictable and limited': Dr. Thomas Dobbs urges patience with COVID-19 vaccine distribution
Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state's health officer, cautioned Mississippians that receiving COVID-19 vaccines will "take a little bit of time." "It's unpredictable and limited," Dobbs said of the vaccine supply in a Jan. 22 video interview with LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. "We have a sense that we will probably get a steady trickle of vaccine. It's probably like .1% of the population every week right now at the current pace. "We just found out yesterday what we'll get for next week," Dobbs continued. "All these clinics we have scheduled, we schedule them based on anticipated inventory. But we never know for sure." Many Mississippians have expressed frustration in recent weeks with slow vaccine rollout. Some have reported having to drive more than three hours to receive a vaccine in one of the state's drive-thru sites. Others say they are eligible to receive the vaccine but cannot secure an appointment quickly enough before they are booked. But the state's health officials say their hands are largely tied as they await vaccine shipments from the federal government. "It's not that anybody isn't doing their part, it's just that we don't know what's coming from week to week until very long into it. It's hard to plan," Woodward said.
Gov. Tate Reeves: Mississippi 'unconquerable' amid virus and disasters
Mississippi is "unconquerable" after a year dominated by the coronavirus pandemic and natural disasters including tornadoes that cut wide paths of destruction last Easter, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves said in his State of the State speech Tuesday. Speaking on the south steps of the Capitol, Reeves renewed his call for eliminating the state's personal income tax and said he would sign a bill to increase teachers' pay. He called on legislators to make "wise investments" in workforce training. And, he vowed that Mississippi will vaccinate people against the coronavirus as quickly as possible. The governor said when he released his state budget proposals in November that eliminating the 4% and 5% personal income tax brackets would help Mississippi compete against other states in trying to attract new jobs. Reeves closed his speech Tuesday by saying his personal goal is to "cultivate empathy," which he said is in short supply in politics.
Gov. Tate Reeves outlines vision for eliminating state income tax and increasing teacher pay in State of the State speech
Gov. Tate Reeves told lawmakers in his second State of the State speech that his goal is for the state's economy to compete with the best-performing states such as Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas. Reeves spoke at the state Capitol Tuesday and said he plans to sign any pay increase for teachers that lawmakers send him. Two ways that Reeves said the state's economy can compete with the aforementioned states is by eliminating the state's income tax and by spending more on workforce development. "I believe that in order to fully capture the potential of this historic moment, we must think big. We need a bold move," Reeves said. "This is the time for an action that will turn heads all across the country and get money and people flowing in. And I believe that move is the elimination of the income tax. It is a reward for our hard workers, and an incentive for others to invest here, to grow here, and to live here." Eliminating the state's income tax would cost the state about $2 billion in tax revenue, which represented 35.23 percent of the state's general fund budget in fiscal 2021.
Gov. Reeves renews push for eliminating income tax in State of the State address
Gov. Tate Reeves used his State of the State address Tuesday to renew his push for eliminating Mississippi's individual income tax, even as Republican legislative leaders have expressed less enthusiasm for the idea. "We need a bold move," Reeves said in the afternoon speech. "This is the time for an action that will turn heads all across the country and get money and people flowing in. And I believe that move is the elimination of the income tax." The Republican also urged more investment in workforce development programs to "get our economy rolling." He portrayed the state economy as in decent shape given the pandemic, pointing to a robust job recovery in recent months. In the Mississippi Democratic Party's response to Reeves' address, Sen. Derrick Simmons, D-Greenville, said the state was not in such rosy shape during the pandemic and under Reeves' leadership. He argued more must be done to help laid-off Mississippians and that state leaders failed to provide adequate help to struggling small businesses.
Mississippi governor's State of the State: Lawmakers react
Republican Gov. Tate Reeves received bipartisan support for committing to a teacher pay raise during his State of the State address Tuesday. Meanwhile, Democrats share concerns about his proposal to eliminate the income tax, while Republicans are largely in favor. Reaction from some legislators to the Tuesday speech: Republican Sen. Briggs Hopson of Vicksburg: "I think the Governor was on target recognizing what we've already passed in the Senate, and that is the teacher pay raise. He also stressed the importance of increasing our workforce development and labor participation. Those were very important issues that we'll look at going forward. The income tax reduction and/or elimination is something that we've addressed in the past -- we've reduced income taxes in the past few years -- and I certainly think income tax and all taxes in the state of Mississippi are something that we need to look at on a regular basis and look at comprehensively to make sure that we've got a very aggressive tax system, and by that I mean a tax system that allows our citizens to prosper at the maximum level while also being very attractive to recruit and retain businesses in the state."
Lawmakers react to governor's State of the State address
Some Mississippi legislators say they're glad to hear Governor State Reeves speak with enthusiasm about the state's future. He praised Mississippians for their resilience in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, the state's response and expanding vaccine distribution. Republican Senator Rita Parks of Corinth, says she's excited the governor supports more workforce development. "Being chairman of Universities and Colleges I was especially glad to hear him comment on that investment, so I look forward to what we're going to do this year. There are some bill in my committee and also in the workforce training committee," said Parks. Parks adds enhancing workforce development will help Mississippi grow.
Senate bill would privatize some Mississippi state parks, give others away
A Northeast Mississippi lawmaker has introduced a sweeping proposal to privatize at least 10 Mississippi state parks and offload several others to cities and counties. Senate Bill 2486, authored by Sen. Neil Whaley, R-Potts Camp, would overhaul how many of the state's 25 parks operate and who oversees them in an apparent bid to address the park system's shrinking budget and massive maintenance backlog. Whaley, who leads the Senate Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Committee, did not respond to the Daily Journal's requests for comment. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, the Senate leader, says improving state parks is among his top priorities this session. He told reporters last month the parks should be more accessible to Mississippians and act as assets to bring in tourism dollars. Whaley's legislation would significantly affect much of the state park system. Under SB 2486, only four state parks -- Holmes, Leroy Percy, LeFleur's Bluff and Shepard -- would be managed by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks as they are now.
Mississippi considers allowing home delivery of alcohol
A bill being considered in the Mississippi Legislature would allow for home delivery of beer, wine and hard liquor. Deliveries could only be made to people 21 or older, and in parts of the state where alcohol sales are legal. Delivery drivers also would have to be at least 21. The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday passed Senate Bill 2804, sending it to the full Senate for more debate. The committee chairman, Republican Josh Harkins of Flowood, said the alcohol deliveries would be similar to meal delivery services that have become popular during the coronavirus pandemic. Delivery people would be independent contractors. Matthew Majure, a government affairs adviser for the Jackson-based Adams and Reese law firm, told senators that the grocery delivery service Shipt is pushing for Mississippi to legalize alcohol delivery.
ACLU decries Senate bill as 'voter suppression tool'
The ACLU of Mississippi says that Senate Bill 2588 is a voter-suppression tool, and would "force election commissioners to remove voters from the voter rolls for simply not voting." On Tuesday, the bill was passed out of the Senate Elections Committee, meaning it could be brought up for a vote by the entire Senate. The measure would create a new code section to require county registrars or election commissioners to "remove from the statewide elections management system" voters who fail to respond to a voter confirmation notice, vote, or update their registration information at least once in a four-year period. "The right to vote should not be us a 'use it or lose it' policy," the ACLU writes. "Once registered a voter should not be disenfranchised so long as the voter remains eligible to vote. That basic principle is one that should be jealously guarded in our democracy regardless of one's political persuasion." S.B. 2588 was authored by District 33 Sen. Jeff Tate, who represents Clarke and Lauderdale counties. He is currently the chair of the Elections Committee, according to the legislature's website.
New Albany legislator proposes flag burning bill despite Supreme Court ruling
A New Albany legislator wants to criminalize flag burning in defiance of several U.S. Supreme Court rulings. Sen. Kathy Chism, R-New Albany, has introduced a bill that would ban any burning of the U.S. flag other than for the disposal of a worn or soiled flag. In a statement to the Daily Journal, Chism said she hopes the bill will ultimately lead the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn standing precedent that laws against flag burning are unconstitutional. "Like most Mississippians, I love and respect the American flag," Chism said. "Thousands of men and women, including my father and brother, have fought under that banner. And many have paid the ultimate sacrifice to preserve it." Chism's bill largely duplicates current law. Mississippi statute bars the mutilation, defacement or defilement of the U.S. flag, the Mississippi state flag and the Confederate flag. The current statute allows for a fine up to $1,000 and imprisonment up to 30 days. In addition to these penalties, Chism's proposed law would require that flag burners be fined $500 or imprisoned for 30 days. However, both the current law and Chism's more targeted bill run afoul of court precedents.
'Insulting and frustrating': Community leaders decry lack of Asian Americans in Biden's top Cabinet picks
Things were looking up for the rapidly growing Asian American electorate after the 2020 election. Voter turnout in the community had been bigger than ever before, and Joe Biden, the candidate most had supported, had won the presidency. Meanwhile, Kamala Harris, Biden's vice president, was of South Asian heritage. So when Biden – whose Cabinet is shaping up to be the most diverse in U.S. history -- failed to name a single Cabinet secretary of AAPI descent, the backlash was bitter -- and compounded by a longstanding sense of feeling left out of federal decision-making. Every presidential Cabinet since 2000 has included an Asian American until now. "It's insulting and frustrating," said Madalene Mielke, president and CEO of the Asian Pacific American Institute of Congressional Studies. "Part of the reason Asian Americans vote is that they're looking for people who can represent them. And it stings, because it looks like we're regressing." The omission is particularly galling, Mielke and others said, after an election in which the Asian community played a pivotal role – and at a time when Asian Americans are keenly affected by issues such as immigration and the disproportionate effects of an ongoing pandemic, including racism.
Senators discussing Trump censure resolution
Senators are discussing a potential censure resolution against former President Trump as it becomes increasingly clear that his second impeachment trial is likely to end in acquittal. A spokesperson for Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) confirmed that he is discussing the issue with GOP Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) as well as with his Senate colleagues more broadly. Axios first reported on Tuesday that Kaine and Collins were pitching their colleagues on the idea of a censure resolution. Spokespeople for Collins didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about the conversations. But Collins indicated on Tuesday after 45 GOP senators supported an effort to deem Trump's trial unconstitutional that she expected the Senate would not be able to convict him. Collins was one of five GOP senators who voted to set aside the effort by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to declare the trial unconstitutional. "I think it's pretty obvious from the vote today that it is extraordinarily unlikely that the President will be convicted. Just do the math," she said.
Itawamba Community College inks agreement with MHP to create preferred candidate program
tawamba Community College has signed an agreement with the Mississippi Highway Patrol to establish a preferred candidate program, making the school the first, and currently only, community college in the state to take part in the pilot program with Mississippi's largest law enforcement agency. The MHP Candidates On Rapid Entry (C.O.R.E.) program will begin this fall after "months of discussions and planning," ICC President Dr. Jay Allen said. Officials with the community college and law enforcement agencies announced the deal during a press conference, Tuesday. "At ICC, we believe in strengthening and forging partnerships that will richly benefit the success of our outstanding students and the communities that we serve," Allen said. "We are honored to mark the beginning of a great partnership with our friends, of some of Mississippi's best, the Mississippi Highway Patrol." The partnership will allow enrolled students to pursue either an Associate of Arts or Associate of Applied Science degree in ICC's criminal justice program, meet with an MHP recruiter, and apply for the MHP Preferred Candidate Program to bypass weeks of MHP Academy training. Entry into the ranks of the MHP currently requires the completion of a 23-week training program held at the Mississippi Law Enforcement Training Academy.
Will the School Recognition Program see more accountability this year? 'Everything's on the the table.'
Last month, bus driver and sixth grade special education teacher Chris Nichols received a bonus for helping his school improve a letter grade. The $1,320 stipend came from the School Recognition Program, which provides a financial reward for teachers and staff. For Nichols, who teaches in the Itawamba County School District, this extra cash also caused some guilt. Though he was happy to have it, his colleagues who are teacher aides and assistants weren't eligible for the funds even though they "work just as hard" as teachers, he said. The program's guidelines allow only "certified staff" to receive an award. "These people are even more underpaid than our teachers, barely making over $1,000 a month and they're working 40 hours a week," Nichols said. "So seeing those test results (rise), I feel like those workers should get credit when it comes time to get that money. It goes beyond what (students) receive from the teacher in the classroom." Nichols' concerns echo criticism from school officials, teachers, education advocates and lawmakers about the controversial program, which provides financial rewards for educators in school districts with an A rating or districts that move up a letter grade year over year. The question of equity in the program is compounded by a new complication caused by the coronavirus: Is it fair to reward districts based on letter grades that are not up to date?
CDC Makes The Case For Schools Reopening
A review of data from K-12 schools that reopened for in-person instruction in the fall has found little evidence that schools contributed meaningfully to the spread of COVID-19, according to a new article published Tuesday in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association. The review from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, authored by three of its scientists, represents the clearest view yet of the facts behind what has become a heated debate over when and how schools should reopen. Last spring and into fall, schools across the country closed -- and many remain closed -- out of fear that allowing students and staff to return to school buildings would drive communitywide spread of the virus, much as nursing homes and crowded bars have done. The CDC report says data from reopened classrooms show that "the type of rapid spread that was frequently observed in congregate living facilities or high-density worksites has not been reported in education settings in schools." Meanwhile, evidence mounts of the social, emotional and academic toll remote learning has taken on children, especially in already vulnerable, low-income communities.
U. of Alabama students document region's folk artists
Professor Christopher Jordan did not know the Black Belt well when he decided to take his photography students into the field to document the region's artists and crafts makers. What they found were people turning often meagre material into creative masterpieces. "We were struck by the resourcefulness of the artists," Jordan said. The students' work, completed mainly last summer, became the Black Belt Artist Project, a collection of portraits and video interviews of basket makers, weavers, quilters, painters and sculptors. The photos are on exhibit through January 29 at University of Alabama and also were collected into a book created by the school's graphic design students. Jordan, a photographer himself, started the Black Belt Artist Project as a service learning project, which then became a summer course. "The idea was to bring the classroom into the community, so students could have real world experience," he said. For the students, it was a chance to develop their skills. The students also learned from the older artists, who were often self taught.
For some Auburn University students, hands-on training means giving COVID-19 vaccination shots
Trae Anderson has given countless shots. Marion Colvin has given countless shots. Yet there they stand inside Beard Eaves Coliseum at Auburn University, preparing to administer more shots to healthcare workers, student, and faculty against COVID-19. "We're certified to give immunizations at the start of our second year," said Colvin, a 25-year-old fourth-year Harrison School of Pharmacy student. "Auburn has done a great job at preparing us." But, she said, "I was kind of nervous on my first day -- this is such a huge thing happening on campus." Anderson, a 22-year-old nursing student planning to go into pediatrics or critical care, agreed saying, "It's an honor and a privilege" to actively participate in Auburn University's vaccine rollout. By the end of their first shifts in January, Colvin and Anderson have administered "countless" shots, joining a group of student nurses and pharmacists from Auburn University who are gaining field experience at a time when there's a demand for healthcare professionals trained to administer vaccines.
AU COVID cases decline slightly amid vaccine rollout and low sentinel testing numbers
A total of 78 new cases of COVID-19 were reported on Auburn's campuses this week, marking a slight decrease from last week's 113. All but one of the reported cases came from Auburn's main campus for the week ending Jan. 24, while the other case was reported at the Auburn University Airport. Participation in sentinel testing, the University's system of tracking the spread of the coronavirus among the campus community via random selection for testing, increased this week, while the percent of tests returning a positive result decreased. Of 402 sentinel tests, two returned a positive result. Dr. Fred Kam, director of the AU Medical Clinic, said that participation in sentinel testing still needs to be higher. "We really need to be more than doubling [participation in sentinel testing], and the only way this is going to happen is if people take the opportunity and do your part," Kam said.
LSU approves plan for department of African American studies two decades after it was recommended
Two decades after it was recommended, LSU is launching a department devoted to African and African American studies. The measure breezed through the LSU Board of Supervisors earlier this month, which means the topic will be elevated from a program to a full-fledged department. "It is a wonderful time and an appropriate time for AAA to become a department," Stephen Finley, director of the program, told the board. LSU would be the first public college or university in Louisiana to create such a department. Only Tulane University, a private school, has one today. The plan next faces review from the state Board of Regents, which oversees all higher education institutions. Meanwhile, a controversial proposal to require future LSU students to take a course on African American contributions to Louisiana and the rest of America in order to graduate was withdrawn Monday night at the LSU Faculty Senate. Sponsors said their effort got bogged down in details when the issue cried out for a focus on "anti-blackness" at LSU and elsewhere. Critics said last month the proposed class amounted to "left wing racialism."
U. of Florida receives $2 million gift to research, fight disinformation
The University of Florida announced Monday that alumni Linda and Ken McGurn have pledged $2 million to create the McGurn Fellowship Program for Media Integrity and the Fight Against Disinformation. The gift will support a program between the UF Levin College of Law, College of Journalism and Communications and Consortium on Trust in Media and Technology. It will be used to recruit and pay expert lecturers and professors to research and teach the origins and solutions for public disinformation, aiming to boost trust in modern media, society and government, said Dean Laura Rosenbury of the law college. Eventually, she said, the collaboration hopes to produce policy recommendations for newsrooms and legislatures to maximize faith and the dissemination of accurate information. "We've seen over the last three of four years how disinformation has eroded trust," Rosenbury said. "We have to tackle disinformation head on, and the McGurns' generous donation will help us do so immediately."
Nearly 500 UF students test positive for COVID-19 since start of semester
After 205 more University of Florida students tested positive for COVID-19 since Jan. 19, the total number of infected students since the start of the semester is nearing 500. Since the first day of classes, 492 students and 106 employees have tested positive, according to the university's COVID-19 testing dashboard. This brings the cumulative figure for all UF-affiliate cases to 7,886 since the dashboard began tracking on March 18. UF affiliates who are quarantining -- including employees and students -- decreased from 925 on Jan. 18 to 877 on Monday. This includes individuals who exhibited symptoms or have come in close contact with an infected person. Over the course of the semester there has been a negative trend as 1,119 individuals were quarantined Jan. 11, a difference of 242 from Monday. Adult ICU availability measured at 5.77% (15 beds) available for UF Health Shands Hospital and 8.33% (four beds) available for North Florida Regional Medical Center on Tuesday, according to the Agency of Healthcare Administration (AHCA) for the State of Florida.
University System of Georgia Board of Regents announces national search for new chancellor
The University System of Georgia will conduct a national search for a successor to retiring Chancellor Steve Wrigley, the system announced Monday. Seven members of the system's Board of Regents will form an advisory group to help with the search. The group will be chaired by Regent Kessel D. Stelling Jr., chairman and CEO of Columbus-based Synovus. The group will work with the Atlanta-based firm Parker Executive Search to put in place a search process that will include input gathered during listening sessions and from a publicly accessible website. Wrigley announced earlier this month that he will step down on July 1 after 36 years in public service, including more than four years as chancellor. Joining Stelling on the advisory committee will be Board of Regents Chairman Sachin Shailendra and regents Erin Hames, C. Everett Kennedy III, Neil L. Pruitt Jr., Sarah-Elizabeth Langford-Reed and Harold Reynolds.
U. of Tennessee identifies COVID-19 cluster in a sorority house, the first cluster of semester
The University of Tennessee at Knoxville has identified its first COVID-19 cluster of the spring semester. The cluster is at the Sigma Kappa sorority house and was identified on Jan. 24. The cluster includes one COVID-19 case and 37 close contacts "due to the living arrangements" of the house, UT spokesperson Owen Driskill said. "The Sigma Kappa house director worked with contact tracing to quickly put safety protocols in place, and we greatly appreciate the students' cooperation," Driskill said. Students have the option to quarantine in the Sigma Kappa house, Driskill said. Sigma Kappa was one of the sorority houses that also had a cluster last semester. At the time, university officials said sorority and fraternity houses are more susceptible to clusters because of how they are set up, with many shared living spaces. This is the first cluster identified during the spring semester, which began on Jan. 20. A cluster is defined by UT as at least five positive cases or 20 close contacts coming from one event or location.
'I look forward to boring': Presidential transition, inauguration as seen by local political science professors
The presidential transition and inauguration, President Biden's first days in office and what influence Donald Trump might retain in the Republican Party were ideas discussed by political science professors from the University of Missouri, Columbia College and Westminster College as Biden's administration reaches one week in office. "I look forward to boring," said Terry Smith, political science professor at Columbia College. "I think the country needs that right now." Others sharing insights were Mitchell McKinney, director of the MU Political Communication Institute in the MU Department of Communication; Justin Dyer, an MU political science professor and director of the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy; and Tobias Gibson, chairman of the political science department at Westminster College in Fulton. President Biden had the right message in his inaugural speech, they said. "My first thought is that (Biden's inaugural address) was very well done," said Dyer, who specializes in American politics. "He struck notes about unity. It didn't seem overwhelmingly partisan."
Ambassador Andrew Young emphasizes nonviolence at U. of Missouri MLK event
It is better to think than to fight, said former UN Ambassador Andrew Young. "(Growing up), you either had to talk or fight," Young said in an interview Monday. "When you get angry, the blood rushes from your head and your brain stops working and you will inevitably do something stupid. "So don't get mad, get smart." Young was the 2021 keynote speaker at the University of Missouri's Annual MLK Day of Celebration. This year's theme was "Infinite Hope: The Power and Possibilities of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's Vision." Throughout his career, Young impacted civil rights in the United States through a variety of roles, including serving as a U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, a U.S. Representative from Georgia, the Mayor of Atlanta, an ordained minister and an activist. Young focused his remarks on a message of nonviolence, the spiritual powers behind the civil rights movement and the importance of engaging with the political system to create change. During the Q&A portion of the event, Young emphasized the importance of shifting social movements from protest to politics.
With Pell Grants restored to people in prison, eyes turn to assuring quality
In 1994, Congress adopted a bill authored by then-Senator Joe Biden that banned people in prison from having access to federal Pell Grants. Last month, after 26 years, that ban was finally lifted. Advocates and practitioners agree, the change is monumental for those in prison. They say much of the credit for the victory goes to formerly incarcerated people -- and their organizations, such as the Unlock Higher Ed coalition -- who have demonstrated the value of an education and human potential for change. "I know the benefits of education for those coming out of prison," said Tracy Andrus, a professor of criminal justice at Wiley College in Texas who was incarcerated in the 1990s. Andrus is also the director of the Lee P. Brown Criminal Justice Institute at Wiley and was the first African American person to earn a Ph.D. in juvenile justice. "I was not fortunate enough to have Second Chance Pell." But the effort to expand higher education in prison isn't over. And the end of the ban has brought on new concerns about low-quality programs, implementation and equity.
The economy is getting even worse for Americans with high school degrees or less education
Last week, the Biden administration took over an economy that has been severely hobbled by the coronavirus pandemic. While unemployment has risen for all types of workers, jobs have recovered slowly but steadily for Americans with some college education, according to Department of Labor data. That was true for lower-education workers too, until winter struck. Standard measures of unemployment don't capture the full scope of the problem, because they exclude the millions of Americans who are out of work but say they cannot look for a job because of the pandemic. A better way is to look at the trend among all Americans age 25 or older. In December 2019, 53 percent of these Americans with a high school education or less were employed. By December 2020, that dropped to 48 percent. That means that one out of every 20 has lost employment in the past year. A fifth of those losses occurred in November and December. These workers tend to be concentrated in the sort of industries that are most directly affected by government restrictions in response to covid-19, such as eating and drinking places, construction and hotels.
Inside one family's journey to find an affordable college
Finding the right college, and figuring out how to pay for it, is a daunting task with lots of unknowns and moving pieces. And it's grown increasingly tricky for middle-class families who fall into the so-called "doughnut hole" of financial aid. That's when you earn too much money to qualify for significant need-based aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) but too little to pay the full price out of pocket. Lara Mordenti Perrault, of Bel Air, Maryland, and her husband did the math. They have four kids and could afford about $100,000 for each of them for college, about $25,000 a year, roughly what it costs for their state schools. Adjust that for tuition prices that increase by the year, and the family estimates it will cost about $500,000 to put all four kids through school. And so, instead of applying to the Ivy League colleges where many said Mordenti Perrault's daughter's had a chance of gaining admission, they embarked on a long journey to secure merit aid at the colleges and universities that dole out hefty scholarships to top performers.
Harvard calls off course amid petition campaign
Under pressure from students, Harvard University canceled a course that was to have been offered this semester on a controversial policing technique used in Springfield, Mass. The technique is known as C3, or Counter Criminal Continuum Policing. It involves citizens working with police to bring down crime, and it has been credited with significantly reducing crime in Springfield. But its creation was in the U.S. military occupation of Iraq, and that is one reason that the technique is controversial. For some, this history reinforces criticisms that American policing, especially in communities of color, has become overly militarized and violent. Those criticisms became particularly resonant in the wake of nationwide protests last summer after the police killings of George Floyd and other unarmed Black citizens and the racial reckoning that followed. The C3 technique was created by Michael Cutone, a retired Massachusetts state trooper and the founder of a private company that specializes in the approach. In a June 2020 interview with GBH News' Boston Public Radio, Cutone cited C3 policing as a potential model for police reform. "The policing program I started has nothing to do with militarizing the police," Cutone said. "It's basically taking the best practices I learned from community engagement with my time with the Green Berets, then applying them in the civilian law enforcement sector."
Harvard Leads the Ivies in the WSJ/THE College Rankings
Harvard University is the top-ranked Ivy League school in the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings for 2021, followed by Yale University and Brown University. All three schools are among the top five nationwide, with Harvard at No. 1, Yale at No. 3 and Brown at No. 5. Princeton University and Cornell University also made the top 10 nationally, at No. 7 and No. 9, respectively, while Dartmouth College, the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University all are in the top 15. Columbia University scored highest for diversity among the Ivy League schools, at No. 48 nationally in the environment category. Next highest for diversity in this group is Yale at No. 98 nationally. Environment ranks for the other Ivies range from No. 120 to No. 231. The WSJ/THE ranking is based on 15 factors across four main categories: Forty percent of each school's overall score comes from student outcomes, including measures of graduate salaries and debt burdens, 30% from the school's academic resources, including how much it spends on teaching, 20% from how well it engages its students and 10% from its environment, a measure of the diversity of its students and faculty.
How the Pandemic Put More Strain on Students Last Fall
As colleges begin their spring terms, they're still learning lessons about how students felt about the fall. One thing seems clear about the "new normal": Students are struggling to make online classes work while worrying about their finances and their health. A new survey by New America and Third Way, which updates a survey the two think tanks conducted last August with Global Strategy Group, a public-affairs and research company, reveals that the challenges plaguing students since the pandemic began haven't disappeared. Some are getting worse. The December survey provides, among other things, a look at the difficulties of online learning for students, their financial struggles, and their views on the value of a college education. Here's more about the ways Covid-19 has affected how students feel about their college experience.
Advocates of Black Colleges Are Optimistic. Here's What They Want From the Biden Administration.
Advocates of historically Black colleges describe this moment as the dawn of a renaissance for the sector. It's easy to see why. For the first time ever, an HBCU graduate, Kamala D. Harris, is vice president. Another such grad, the Rev. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, just joined the U.S. Senate, helping flip the body to Democratic control. Meantime, eye-popping private donations, including from the philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, have energized the historically underfunded colleges. And with protests after the death of George Floyd spotlighting systemic racial inequities in American society, people are taking a fresh look at HBCUs as engines of economic opportunity for Black Americans. Hopes are high. But can political leaders and policy makers deliver on the optimism? Among the top priorities for HBCU advocates is holding President Biden to his pledge to double the maximum Pell Grant, currently $6,345 for the academic year.
President Biden Calls for Greater Equity in HBCU Funding
Saying the United States never lived up to the ideals of the founding fathers that all people are created equal, President Joe Biden said one element of advancing racial equity would be to increase funding for historically Black colleges and universities as well as other minority-serving institutions. "Just imagine how much more creative and innovative we'd be if this nation held the historically Black colleges and universities to the same ... funding and resources of public universities to compete for jobs in industries of the future," Biden said. "Just ask the first HBCU graduate elected to vice president if that's true," he said of Vice President Kamala Harris, a graduate of Howard University. Biden made the remarks as he signed a series of executive orders, including those instructing the Justice Department to not renew contracts with for-profit prisons, as well as a memorandum condemning xenophobia against Asians and Pacific Islanders.
A Scientist Is Arrested, and Academics Push Back
It was Donald J. Trump's last full week in office, so Andrew E. Lelling, the federal prosecutor in Boston, knew he had limited time left in his job. But there was one more important arrest to announce, one that had been in the works for more than a year and would burnish his record on a key initiative of his tenure. Police officers that morning had arrested Gang Chen, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on suspicion of hiding affiliations with Chinese government institutions in order to secure $19 million in U.S. federal grants. Dr. Chen's prosecution was the latest in the Justice Department's two-year-old China Initiative, which aims to root out research scientists passing sensitive technology to China. In the 10 days since Dr. Chen's arrest, his colleagues have publicly protested, arguing that prosecutors have overreached, blurring the line between disclosure violations and more serious crimes, like espionage or intellectual property theft. The university itself has challenged one of the prosecution's assertions, saying that $19 million in Chinese funding cited in the criminal complaint was not granted to Dr. Chen individually, but rather was part of a well-publicized collaboration that Dr. Chen helped to broker between M.I.T. and a Chinese research center. Dr. Chen has pleaded not guilty and was released on $1 million bond. M.I.T. is paying for his legal defense, something that has not occurred in similar cases.
Intense scrutiny of Chinese-born researchers in the US threatens innovation
The arrest of MIT engineering professor Gang Chen on Jan. 14 has drawn attention to the role of China in U.S. science and technology system. It's not the first time suspicions have fallen on a Chinese-born scientist -- Chen is a naturalized U.S. citizen -- for work they conduct openly in the United States. The charges against Gang Chen -- wire fraud, failing to report a foreign bank account and a false statement on a tax return -- stem from failing to disclose Chinese funding for his research. MIT called the allegations "distressing," and the school's president and 100 faculty members are defending a Chinese university's investment in MIT research. No evidence of spying has been made public, but a Department of Justice criminal complaint expressed suspicions that Chen's loyalty may not be aligned with American interests. These kinds of investigations risk damaging one of the U.S.'s most important assets: open inquiry. The U.S. government's scrutiny of Chinese Americans and Chinese scholars runs up against the value of open scientific exchange. My research on international collaboration in science has shown that open nations have strong science. Nations that accept visitors and send researchers abroad, those that engage richly in cross-border collaborations and fund international projects produce better science and excel in innovation. Closing doors inhibits the very trait that makes the U.S. innovation system the envy of the world.
New research argues for need to streamline green card process for foreign STEM Ph.D.s.
International students who earn Ph.Ds. in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields from American research universities often take an "inefficient pathway" to permanent residency in the United States, two researchers argue in a new article published in Science that bolsters President Biden's case for making it easier for STEM Ph.D.s to get green cards granting them permanent status. Using data from a survey they conducted of STEM doctorates from 39 leading research universities along with data from the Department of Labor, the researchers conclude that the H-1B visa -- a temporary skilled worker visa open to workers with a bachelor's degree or higher -- "has become the predominant first step for STEM Ph.D.'s employed in industrial [research and development], not because it is legally required or the most suitable visa, but because of inefficiencies and delays on the path to permanent residency." Michael Roach, the J. Thomas and Nancy W. Clark Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship at Cornell University, said most foreign doctoral students say they want permanent residency. "So the question is why not go straight to a green cards?" asked Roach, who co-authored the article, "Rethinking Immigration Policies for STEM Doctorates," with John Skrentny, a professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego.
Remembering Sylvia Howell Krebs: A woman of talent, substance and curiosity
Syndicated columnist Sid Salter writes: Earlier this month, a gentle, intellectual giant died, and it's likely that few among her university colleagues and friends in Douglasville, Georgia, knew they were in the presence of a Hall of Fame athlete. Just as likely, many residents of Sylvia's hometown of Forest, Mississippi, were unaware that she was a renowned scholar, educator, traveler and writer. Sylvia Howell Krebs, Ph.D., died Jan. 12 in Baptist Hospital in Jackson following complications from abdominal surgery. She was 83.

Yves Pons leads No. 18 Tennessee past Mississippi State
Even on a miserable shooting night, Tennessee coach Rick Barnes is convinced the shots will fall sooner or later. The 18th-ranked Volunteers hit just 37% of their shots from the field --- and 16% from 3-point --- but still came away with a 56-53 win over Mississippi State Tuesday night. "If our guys are taking good shots, I can't be concerned with how we're shooting," Barnes said. "The thing is: Can you win when you're not making shots?" Yves Pons scored 13 points to lead the Tennessee (11-3, 5-3 Southeastern Conference) victory. He was a critical force in the first half for the Vols, then hit a pair of shots late in the second half when the Bulldogs (9-8, 4-5), who managed to shoot 33%, had the game tied. "This was a must win," said Pons. Mississippi State was led by Iverson Molinar with 16 points and D.J. Stewart with 11. Abdul Ado had 12 rebounds and Quinten Post pulled down 10 as the Bulldogs dominated the boards, 42-30. The Bulldogs will leave the grind of the conference campaign to be part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. They will entertain Iowa State Saturday.
Mississippi State basketball losing streak extends to 3 in tough loss at Tennessee
Close but no cigar. You know, the old adage used to describe a situation in which someone or something nearly wins but comes up a tad short in the end? Let's adjust it a little bit – close but no dog treat. Mississippi State basketball took a ranked opponent to the wire on the road for the second straight game but ultimately fell 56-53 to No. 18 Tennessee on Tuesday at Thompson-Boling Arena. "We've got to make some shots," MSU coach Ben Howland said. "We missed a number of shots at the rim." Unlike last Saturday against then-No. 16 Alabama, Mississippi State (9-8, 4-5 SEC) actually held a second-half lead over Tennessee (11-3, 5-3). Howland's team could not hold onto it, though, to lose a third consecutive game. Win or lose, the Bulldogs have developed their offensive identity. It's sophomore guards Iverson Molinar and D.J. Stewart Jr. Stewart went into the game leading the team in points per game at 18.0. Molinar trailed closely behind at 17.5. Stewart scored 11 against Tennessee. Molinar put in 16. Molinar only scored two points and played nine minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, too. "I felt like in the second half I had to step up and the team needed me," Molinar said. "I always take that responsibility of trying to help my team win."
Turnovers, lackluster offensive execution prevent Mississippi State from upsetting No. 18 Tennessee
For fans of offense, Tuesday's matchup between No. 18 Tennessee and Mississippi State was far from ideal. The lid on the basket refused to open, turnovers seemed more frequent than converted baskets and double-figure scorers were hard to come by. None of that prevented Mississippi State going toe-to-toe with a ranked opponent on the road for the second game in a row. But between 18 turnovers, seven missed free throws, and a shooting percentage less than 33 percent, the Bulldogs failed to convert another winnable game into a victory, losing to Tennessee in a 56-53 decision. "Eighteen turnovers makes it hard to win anywhere on the road, much less a really good Tennessee team," MSU coach Ben Howland said. "We gotta shoot foul shots better to win and we need to make some shots, we missed a number of shots at the rim and we have to finish better." Both players and coaches alike will wonder what might have been when they review the film later in the week, especially with several plays going against MSU down the stretch. MSU is back in action against Iowa State at 5 p.m. Saturday at Humphrey Coliseum as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
'A big miss': What Mississippi State basketball said about missed shot clock violation on Tennessee
Ben Howland errs on the side of caution when asked about officials. Mississippi State's basketball coach didn't veer too far from that money-saving strategy Tuesday night when asked about a crucial call in his team's three-point loss to Tennessee, but he said more about a specific play than he usually does. The Volunteers led 50-48 when it appeared Tennessee freshman guard Jaden Springer did not release the ball before the shot clock hit 0:0. The Volunteers came up with an offensive rebound and scored immediately to push their lead to four with 2:31 remaining. Tennessee went on to win 56-53. "It was not out of his hands," Howland said. "That was a huge play. I was sitting next to (MSU's sports information director) and said, 'What's the deal?' He's like, 'Well, that's a judgment call. They missed it.' Yeah, that's a big miss." The play would have been subject to review if it came just over half a minute later. Plays like those are reviewable in the final two minutes of the game. Howland was asked if that rule should be changed. "I don't know," he said. "I'm not on the rules committee. They're worried about finishing games within the two-hour window for television reasons. So at what time do they -- you know, I think it is a hard question."
Legend of NFL's QB whisperer Bruce Arians began at Mississippi State
Mississippi sports columnist Rick Cleveland writes: They call Bruce Arians, head coach of the Super Bowl Tampa Bay Bucs, the "quarterback whisperer" because of his influence on the careers of such superstars as Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer, among many others. Not to mention, Arians now coaches a guy named Tom Brady. Turns out, Arians may have done his best whispering to a quarterback named Dave Marler at Mississippi State way back in 1978. Marler, from Forest, transferred to Mississippi State from Mississippi College after his sophomore season. He walked on, made the team as a placekicker and earned a scholarship as State's kicker for the 1977 season under head coach Bob Tyler. "The only passes I threw were on the sidelines, when I wasn't practicing kicking," Marler said Tuesday by phone from his home in Hamilton, Ontario. "I was a kicker, period." Turns out, Marler's holder was Breck Tyler, the coach's son, who was Marler's receiver on the sidelines. "Breck was telling his dad that the best passer on the team was over on the sidelines." Tyler hired Arians, a former Virginia Tech quarterback, in the off-season for Arians' first full-time college coaching job. Breck Tyler lobbied Arians on Marler's behalf, again telling the new quarterbacks coach that Marler could really, really throw the football. At the time, Marler was listed No. 7 of seven State quarterbacks.
Sekou Smith, longtime NBA reporter, former Clarion Ledger reporter, dies from COVID at 48
Longtime NBA writer Sekou Smith, known for his basketball insight and friendly demeanor, died Tuesday of COVID-19. Smith was a graduate of Jackson State University and worked at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson. He was 48 years old. Smith began covering the NBA and the Indiana Pacers in 2001 for The Indianapolis Star and moved south to cover the Atlanta Hawks for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from 2005-2009. Turner Sports hired him in 2009, and he wrote about the league for and provided analysis on NBA TV. "The NBA mourns the passing of Sekou Smith, a beloved member of the NBA family," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said a in statement. "Sekou was one of the most affable and dedicated reporters in the NBA and a terrific friend to so many across the league." The outpouring of condolences spread deep and wide, from his close friends on the NBA beat to the players and coaches he covered, such Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Stan Van Gundy and Steve Kerr.
NBA reporter Sekou Smith, who died of covid at 48, is remembered for his kindness
Sekou Smith, a longtime NBA reporter and analyst, died Tuesday of complications from covid-19, devastating the community of coaches, players and reporters who had known him for years. Smith, a native of Grand Rapids, Mich., studied at Jackson State University and began his career at the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. He later covered the Indiana Pacers for the Indianapolis Star and the Atlanta Hawks for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He moved to Turner Sports in 2009, analyzing games for NBA TV, writing for and hosting the Hang Time podcast and blog. He also appeared regularly on NBA TV's studio shows "Game Time" and "The Beat." Smith influenced his colleagues, too, and often mentored young reporters, including as a member of the National Association of Black Journalists. "Sekou Smith was one of the first NABJ-ers to take me under his wing and make me feel like I belonged," ESPN's Malika Andrews wrote. "He pushed to bring the best out of young reporters, was a fierce advocate of diversity in journalism -- and did it with a smile on his face. A pro. Our friend. He is missed." Remembrances were deeply personal and the word "kind" was repeatedly mentioned by his peers.
SEC Media Days headed back to Hoover in 2021
SEC Football Media Days will be back in Hoover in 2021, the league office announced Tuesday. The annual football kickoff event will run from July 19-22 at The Hyatt Regency Birmingham-The Wynfrey Hotel, its home for 18 of 19 years from 2001-19. Media Days had been scheduled to take place this year in Nashville, which will now host the event in 2023. "Nashville's success with the NFL Draft in 2019 was a point of attraction when we originally selected it as site for SEC Football Media Days, but the current environment related to the virus will not allow us to explore some of the unique fan experiences we had hoped to pursue in Nashville for this event," SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said. "With two years to prepare, we look forward to making SEC Media Days an even bigger event in Nashville in 2023." SEC Media Days was held at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta in 2018 and was scheduled to be there again in 2020. The site of 2022 SEC Media Days will be announced "in the near future," the league office announced
Tennessee football hires Josh Heupel of UCF as Vols coach
Danny White scanned the field of candidates and settled on the one he hired the last time he had a football vacancy to fill. Central Florida coach Josh Heupel will follow White, his boss at UCF, to Tennessee. The Vols announced Heupel's hire on Wednesday morning. Heupel, 42, is 28-8 in three seasons at UCF, which was his first head coaching opportunity. White had hired Heupel to replace Scott Frost at UCF. White had been UCF's athletics director until Tennessee hired him Thursday to replace Phillip Fulmer, who is retiring. "We looked at a number of potential candidates," White said in a news release announcing Heupel's hiring. "Josh Heupel, who I had the privilege of working with for three years, is everything we were looking for: winning with integrity, a history of championships and the architect of explosive offenses. A former Oklahoma quarterback who helped the Sooners win the BCS national championship during the 2000 season, Heupel's teams are known for scoring. Heupel received a contract extension and a raise during the 2018 season, which took his contract's expiration to Jan. 15, 2024. His salary at UCF was $2.3 million.
NCAA, Power Five play defense with Dems controlling Congress
The NCAA, the Power Five conferences and their $2 million platoon of lobbyists had a pretty good year on Capitol Hill in 2020. With Republicans controlling the Senate, the power brokers in college sports were on track to secure a way for athletes nationwide to earn money from endorsements while otherwise maintaining the status quo of amateurism. Now that Democrats control Congress and the White House, 2021 is shaping up to be a much bigger challenge for those who don't want major changes in college sports. The bills now best positioned to advance would guarantee health care for college athletes and some form of revenue sharing, which critics describe as "pay for play." Democrats pushing such legislation aren't just motivated by giving athletes access to the free market through name, image and likeness (NIL) rights -- a modest reform that has the full support of the NCAA and the Power Five. Instead, some Democrats see college sports reform as a racial and economic justice issue and are seeking to correct a system they consider exploitative of minorities. That defensive posture for the Power Five comes after the conferences --- the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12 --- collectively spent $1,730,000 to lobby Congress in 2020 --- by far the most they have spent in a year, according to lobbying disclosures reviewed by The Associated Press.

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