By Edwin B. Smith
University of Mississippi
A trio of successful Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College alumni are returning to the University of Mississippi on Thursday (Oct. 13) for the fall Honors Convocation.
The theme for the convocation is “The Transformational Power of Honors Education at the University of Mississippi.” Former NASA engineer Markeeva Morgan, Nisolo founder-CEO Patrick Woodyard, and poet and teacher Sarah Barch-Gill are featured speakers for the event, which is part of the college’s 25th anniversary celebration.
The convocation begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Admission is free and open to the public, and tickets are not required.
“The Honors College has helped us recruit some of the brightest minds from across the world,” said Ethel Scurlock, the college’s dean. “We have been able to provide a space for students to advance their critical thinking skills, learn in small classrooms that encourage creativity and independent thought, and financially support student research and travel.
“The Honors College is helping our students gain the experiences they need to be accepted into top graduate and professional programs.”
Several student leaders are also slated to speak. They include Edrei Peña and Deshauna Lee Vaughn, co-presidents of the Honors College Minority Engagement Council; Andy Flores, a 2022 Truman Scholar and president of the First-Generation Student Network; Sepp Cecil, director of the Honors Senate; and Lila Osman, Associated Student Body president.
A member of the first class of SMBHC graduates, Morgan has earned a reputation as an innovative leader in the U.S. Navy, at NASA and at Boeing, where he leads two divisions.
Inducted into the Ole Miss Student Hall of Fame his senior year and honored with the 2007 Outstanding Young Alumni award, Morgan earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from UM, master’s in engineering management from the Catholic University of America and doctorate in systems engineering from George Washington University.
He serves on the boards for the UM Center for Manufacturing Excellence and the University Research Foundation. Morgan was selected as the inaugural Emerging Young Philanthropist by the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy in 2018. He is an executive sponsor for the Dallas-Fort Worth and Oklahoma City chapters of the Boeing Black Employees Association.
Morgan is a PMI-certified project management professional and was awarded the 2010 Modern Day Technology Award and 2021 Science Spectrum Trailblazer Award at the annual Black Engineer of the Year Awards.
An innovative entrepreneur, Woodyard is committed to issues that Ole Miss students care about: environmental sustainability, global impact, entrepreneurship and service to others.
After studying global economics, business and Spanish, he moved to Peru to work in microfinance. There, he met shoemakers whose reality of low wages and unsafe working conditions reflected much of what the fashion industry experiences.
Dedicated to demonstrating 100% living wages and 0% net carbon, he founded Nisolo with the vision to offer customers comfortable, functional, high-quality products while manufacturing them in a manner that champions the well-being of people and the planet. Nisolo supports the livelihoods of more than 1,500 individuals in Peru, Mexico, Brazil, the U.S. and Kenya.
At Ole Miss, Woodyard co-founded and led several organizations, and was inducted into the UM Hall of Fame. Among other accolades, he has received the university’s Outstanding Young Alumni Award and has been named a Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree, an “Innovator Changing the South” and a Global Accelerator Entrepreneur by the United Nations.
A 2020 graduate with a bachelor’s in English and minors in art and classics, Barch-Gill is making a name for herself as a poet and teacher.
A second-year MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Arkansas, she is working on a collection of revised fairy tales that explore absurdity as a vehicle for thinking about gender and trauma.
Jim and Sally Barksdale worked with Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat and late Provost Carolyn Stanton to establish the Honors College in 1997 with their largest philanthropic gift ever to the university. When Sally died in 2003, the Honors College was renamed in her memory.
Jim Barksdale’s gifts to the Honors College total more than $36 million. He also has provided support for numerous other programs on campus and at the UM Medical Center.
The college houses more than 1,600 undergraduate students from all of the university’s schools and College of Liberal Arts. The Honors College program features an increasing number of in-depth courses, opportunities for experiential learning in the U.S. and abroad, and avenues for effective engagement with community concerns.