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UM Honors Three Employees with Frist Service Awards

Following glowing letters of recommendation by both students and parents, three University of Mississippi employees have been chosen to receive prestigious honors for their exceptional service.
The Thomas Frist Student Service Awards are presented annually to one faculty member and one staff member for going the extra mile in dedication and service to students. Examples of exemplary service include student guidance and mentorship above and beyond those expected of faculty and staff as part of their job responsibilities.
For the first time, two staff members are being honored this year. Leslie Banahan, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs, and Ryan Upshaw, assistant dean for student services in the School of Engineering, are the staff recipients. Kerri Scott, instructional associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry and associate director of forensic chemistry, is the faculty honoree.
“Our university is truly a special place because of our steadfast commitment to student engagement and success,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “Across our campus, we have exceptional faculty and staff who go above and beyond to put our students first.
“All three of this year’s tremendous Frist Award recipients live out this commitment and core value each and every day.”
Any full-time faculty or staff member, except previous winners, is eligible for the award, which includes a $1,000 prize and a plaque. They will also be acknowledged May 12 during the university’s main Commencement ceremony.
A Frist Committee co-chair said that the decision to narrow it down to just one staff recipient this year was impossible because of the stellar praises expressed for each in the nomination letters received.
“We had an outstanding group of nominees with many deserving nominees in each category,” said Brett Cantrell, assistant professor of accountancy. “For the faculty award, Dr. Scott stood out for the impact her advising had on students not just academically, but intra-personally.
“Ryan Upshaw has received strong nominations for this award year after year, and it was only a matter of time before he was recognized.”

Dr. Kerri Scott. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications
Scott, who had multiple nomination letters written by both students and faculty, was commended by a colleague for “her commitment to students and their success.”
One student, who never took a course from Scott, wrote that, “There was one point she found me crying over a quantitative analysis, and Dr. Scott found time to calm me down and give me a chemistry beaker mug to encourage me to keep me moving forward. She helped me come up with an honors undergraduate research project and helped me with the data processing for my thesis.”
One of Upshaw’s nomination letters, written by a student who suffered an aneurysm and was in a coma for a time before being told he would never walk again, states, “Ryan proved to be a ray of sunlight and hope.
“Ryan visited the hospital numerous times, bringing with him notes of well-wishes and reminders that that my home was in Oxford. It was his encouragement that led me to fight hard to recover. … Because of Ryan, I will WALK across the stage on May 12 to graduate.”
In his letter for Banahan, a parent wrote, “it is clear that her service to our students has made a lasting impact on the culture of Ole Miss.” Students and colleagues commended her for her work to bring the Columns Society, Ole Miss Food Bank and Common Reading Experience to campus.
“She gives her students respect and friendship,” one student wrote. “She invites students into her home at Thanksgiving. She brings her dog to class, knowing some students miss being away from family pets for the first time.”
All three honorees said they were rendered “speechless” upon the chancellor’s notification of the honor. Afterwards, each reflected upon what the recognition means to him or her.
“I am incredibly lucky to have a job where I get to help others achieve their dreams,” Scott said. “The students keep me young, on my toes and challenged. They never let me forget that the world is full of amazing potential and greatness.”
Photo by Robert Jordan/University Communications
Upshaw echoed Scott’s sentiments.
“It’s hard to believe that I am receiving this recognition that mentors like Valeria Ross and Donald Cole have received in previous years,” he said. “When I decided to pursue a career in higher education after graduating from Ole Miss, I knew that I had a responsibility to pour into and support students in the same way that so many people did for me (and continue to do) during my time here.”
Leslie Banahan. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications
Banahan expressed similar feelings.
“I feel so fortunate to work with such amazing colleagues and students,” she said. “My career has been a wonderful, fulfilling gift, and I am grateful for the many opportunities I’ve been given at the University of Mississippi.”
One honoree said she plans to give her stipend back to the university.
“I will probably donate the stipend to the Columns Society and to the Ole Miss Food Bank, two student organizations that are very important to me,” Banahan said.
The Frist Student Service Awards were established with a $50,000 gift from the late Dr. Thomas F. Frist of Nashville, a 1930 UM graduate. Previous winners of the Frist Award include faculty members Luca Bombelli, Denis Goulet, Aileen Ajootian, Don Cole, Charles Eagles, Ellen Meacham, Terry Panhorst, Ken Sufka, Eric Weber, Donald Dyer and Robert Brown; and staff members Anne McCauley, Carol Forsythe, Thelma Curry, Dewey Knight, Valeria Ross, Marc Showalter, Linda Spargo and Whitman Smith.

By Edwin B. Smith
For questions or comments email us at hottytoddynews@gmail.com

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