By Erin Garrett and Pam Starling
University of Mississippi
The University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center campus in Southaven will see a transition in leadership this summer with the retirement of executive director Rick Gregory and the promotion of Patricia “Pat” Coats into this role.
Gregory is closing out a career in education that spans more than 30 years and two different continents.
Before taking the helm at UM-DeSoto in 2013, he served as president/dean of the International College of Lijiang College in Guilin, China, and as vice president and dean of the Gary Cook Graduate School of Leadership at Dallas Baptist University.
“Ole Miss is a great place to work, so this has not been an easy decision to move to this next phase in life,” he said. “We have a great leadership team whom I know will continue to provide quality higher education for the people of DeSoto County.”
Gregory was promoted to assistant provost for regional education in 2015 and charged with the administration of five UM regional campuses in Booneville, Grenada, Rankin County, Southaven and Tupelo. He also held a faculty appointment in educational administration with the UM School of Education.
During his tenure at the DeSoto Center, Gregory oversaw a boosted involvement in community relations, new degree offerings and the launch of innovative transfer student programs.
He said that it has been a privilege to serve this community, which he did in several different roles over the years, including serving as president of the Southaven Chamber of Commerce board of directors in 2019.
Gregory’s experience in higher education brought a different perspective to the board, said Debbie King, executive director of the chamber.
“Dr. Gregory’s leadership with the Southaven chamber was paramount to the business community because of his collective yet commanding leadership style that included being directly involved in legislative matters that affected business in DeSoto County,” King said.
Gregory said that in his retirement, he is looking forward to spending more time with his wife, Judy, their three grandchildren and three adult children: Josh, Tiffany and Zach.
On July 1, Coats, of Southaven, will begin her new position as executive director of the DeSoto campus.
UM Associate Provost Tony Ammeter, director of the Division of Outreach and Continuing Education, said that even though he will miss Gregory’s enthusiasm, leadership and sense of humor, they both share excitement at having Coats assume the leadership role at UM-DeSoto.
“She has a strong passion for our students and is an experienced administrator,” he said. “We are very much looking forward to working with her.”
Coats, who brings more than 13 years of higher education experience to the role, serves as assistant director of academic support services for the campus and has been employed at the university for nearly nine years.
“DeSoto County needs more workers with advanced degrees to continue to bolster the economic development of our community,” Coats said. “It makes a difference for our students that they can complete a bachelor’s or master’s degree close to home and receive the quality education and professional connections they need to move ahead in their careers.”
Also, while at UM, Coats has taught the EDHE 305 transfer student experience course and served on the university’s First-Generation Task Force, Transfer Student Task Committee and the UM Staff Council.
“Helping students overcome obstacles is what we are here for,” Coats said.
Coats cites the Ole Miss partnership with Northwest Mississippi Community College at the DeSoto Center in Southaven as a great benefit for DeSoto County residents.
“The shared resources and partnership are a win-win for the students and for both institutions,” she said. “We are working together to come up with solutions for students who want to find a way to complete their degrees.”
Coats previously worked for Texas A&M University at Texarkana and the University of Central Arkansas. She previously held corporate positions in Dallas and Chicago.
A native of Tuckerman, Arkansas, she earned a bachelor’s degree in management information systems and a master’s degree in student affairs/higher education administration from the University of Central Arkansas. She holds a doctorate in higher education administration from UM.
Coats is the proud mom to one son, Doug Easterwood, of Denver.
“I’m most excited about having a seat at the table to help make decisions that will make a difference for transfer students,” she said. “We have to take into consideration the struggles and situations that might be standing in between a student and earning the degree that will better their life.”